Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Humongous Hypocrisy Behind the Cracker Ban

The recent debate on the cracker ban in Delhi as with just about everything else has proved to be contentious and controversial. Chetan Bhagat picked up cudgels on behalf of the beleaguered fireworks industry, though every time he tweets, it works against whatever he is espousing. In the cacophony of voices that have been raised for and against the issue, as always it is reason that has been silenced. 

            Supposedly the ban on the sale of firecrackers in the capital city is to ascertain whether this can make a palpable difference to the dangerous levels of pollution in Delhi. Needless to say, this decision is most certainly going to prove inconclusive and ineffectual simply because this simplistic measure fails to tackle the root causes that led to such a deplorable situation in the first place. People burst crackers only during the Diwali holidays and probably during the occasional wedding or party. But thanks to the relentless smear campaign against the fireworks industry and the little town where I live, which is reeling from crippling losses and may never recover, this is hardly a regular occurrence and the finger of blame can’t be pointed solely at sparklers and chakras.
Let us turn our attention instead towards the major causes of air pollution, though the aetiology behind Delhi’s affliction is hard to pinpoint. However, we do know enough. Vehicular pollution is a major offender and the solution of course would be to use public transportation, car – pooling and avoid driving and flying as much as possible. But I simply cannot see a future where people walk to work or cycle to get their grocery shopping done after those environment – destroying, gas – guzzling vehicles are banned for good, can you?
 The umpteen industrial processes that have the unhappy end result of spewing that toxic looking black smoke into the atmosphere, the burning of agricultural, factory and just about any waste are eco miscreants as well. But of course, we are not freaks to stop progress in its tracks and roll back the industrial revolution, so that we can go back to living like tree hugging hippies. We are cultured people and in India we believe in underpaying the help to keep our houses sparkling clean and dump our trash outside but we certainly cannot shell out for the expensive process of treating wastes and disposing it responsibly. However, while holidaying on foreign shores, we are willing to rant on Facebook about our stupid government that has failed to give us sanitary living conditions and has forced us to endure the unsightly squalor of the squatters in slums.
Tobacco is a proven, lethal source of air pollution but why should we ban the cancer stick and incur the wrath of a gazillion billion dollar industry when we can simply force telly viewers and the movie theatre crowd to listen to Rahul Dravid’s cautionary voice about the evils of smoking with graphic pics of tumours in extreme close up?  Our refrigerators, fans, air – conditioners, room fresheners and even the paint on our walls contain chemicals that have not helped the cause of the much lamented hole in the ozone layer. Surprisingly all these products are endorsed by our revered celebrities who then exhort us from their twitter or instagram accounts while reclining within the cool confines of their fancy, imported cars to celebrate Diwali without those pesky fireworks which are the bane of the environment.
The thing is we all care about our creature comforts far more than the possibility of a tragic catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions in the future. So we are not going to give up our cars, cigarettes, or any of the by – products of the industrial revolution that has made our lives so much easier. Instead, we will be hypocrites and voice our support for the cracker ban across social media so that we can feel better about destroying the world.

  

Fatal Fascination with Fame

Not many of us would admit it, but the truth is that we are ridiculously obsessed with celebs. Everybody will blame the news outlets for making headlines out of stories featuring fabulous and famous folks especially since news is not really news until Twinkle Khanna has written about it. Hence we are pelted with pellets of piddling information, pertaining to pricey movie stars, cricketers, star sons and daughters, overhyped reality show participants and social media phenoms who rose to fame by making sex tapes.
Consequently there is no way of not knowing that Kareena Kapoor is working out for 10 straight hours because the twitterati denounced her chunky legs and Sonam Kapoor has squeezed her painstakingly dieted, sculpted and massaged bod into yet another haute couture outfit. In other enriching news that we simply cannot live without, Jhanvi Kapoor may just make her debut after she has been lovingly groomed by Karan Johar opposite Shah Rukh Khan’s son or Shahid Kapoor’s brother.
And of course everybody knows the story of the century - Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut are slugging it out in court to decide whether an illicit relationship, harassment and stalking actually happened. Given the morbid fascination with the twists and turns of this case, interest in which refuses to die despite doleful reports of death and destruction wreaking havoc in the real world, one would be forgiven for thinking that the very fate of humanity depends on how this almighty kerfuffle is resolved. Never mind that gender equality will remain a distant dream, unfortunate folks who live below the poverty line will continue to starve, struggle and defecate in the open, those who embrace an alternate sexual identity will do so in the closet, anybody who dares to speak against oppression or injustice will be slapped with an expensive lawsuit if not killed outright and India will remain India while the World continues to go to hell, irrespective of the shenanigans of the glitterati. 

Blaming the media is silly. We are served up the only kind of news we care about and want to read these days. A closer introspection would indicate that a part of this fascination for stars of the non -astronomical persuasion is that we see in their overexposed aura what we aspire to be as well as the things we loathe about ourselves. Hence it is fun to place them on pedestals or spew hatred and tear them down. Be that as it may, it is high time we acknowledged that by allowing ourselves to become obsessed with celebs or obsessed with becoming one, we are frittering away valuable creative energy, on things that cannot be construed as constructive. 

Famous people are just regular people who look nicer and always get tables at fancy restaurants. Besides they are as miserable as the rest of us though they are admittedly able to be lame in five star comfort. How do I know? Because Deepika Padukone admitted as much! So let us get real, and resolve to do something useful with the little time given to each of us to make a difference personally, socially, or culturally. Or anything at all that doesn’t involve star gazing.  

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express

Jimmiki Kammals and Kangana Ranaut's story

Move over Kolaveri di, Jimmiki Kammal has arrived and how! This trippy, peppy Malayalam number, composed by Shaan Rahman, appears in Mohanlal’s Velipadinte Pusthakam, and when a bevy of belles grooved to the beat for their Onam celebrations, the song went viral with even popular talk show host Jimmy Kimmel professing his love for it. Men of all ages declared themselves enamoured of the lead dancer from Indian School of Commerce (ISC), and even started WhatsApp groups in her honour.

One intrepid radio jockey tracked her down for an interview frankly declaring that traditionally, a Tamilian dude’s heart beats faster when in the vicinity of a beautiful Malayali girl. Around this time, Kangana Ranaut joined hands with All India Bakchod (AIB) for a satirical video on the rampant sexism in Bollywood. Between interviews, she dished the dirt on abusive relationships she had been involved in with married men from the film industry of varying star voltage.

As always, her cheerleaders applauded her for the frank exposé of taboo topics, while critics wondered about her sincerity given her tendency to bring up scandalous issues just prior to her fi lm’s release. Her supporters countered that if Aamir Khan can embrace pressing social causes, timing it to promote his latest cinematic offering and get applauded for his keen business acumen, why can’t Kangana? But all was forgiven, thanks to the AIB video and the gales of laughter it induced.

Even the worst chauvinists who refer to feminists as feminazis, warmed to the witty Ranaut who sizzled in a midriff-baring crimson outfit. Both videos got me thinking about the male gaze and the sexual politics behind it. In visual media, as Laura Mulvey pointed out in her famous 1975 essay, it refers to a sexualised way of looking which empowers men and reduces women to mere objects of desire. Yet, in both these videos, where the female agency is apparent, somehow the male gaze is successfully transformed into something that is no longer ickily voyeuristic and creepy, but strangely endearing, notwithstanding the touch of ‘scopophilia’ or the sexual pleasure derived by simply looking.

Seeing grown men get so excited by the terpsichorean grace of a girl next door, or the prospect of watching a movie because Ranaut ‘has a vagina re’, reminded me of a simpler time when it was okay to see provided one wasn’t seen seeing. When it was perfectly okay to whistle at a pretty girl without getting pulled up for eve-teasing.

The flush of satisfaction on being at the receiving end of an appreciative glance since it did not pose the risk of stalking or rape. Conversely, with regard to the feminine gaze, surely a lady has the right to ogle an intense and sexy Rafa without getting accused of lewd and lascivious staring? Thanks to the gender wars we have been fighting for so long, we are losing out on so much that is awesome about being male or female, including the playful interplay and banter between the sexes, which need not be limited to intercourse or incendiary politics. Let us celebrate and satisfy masculine and feminine scopophilia, Jimmiki Kammals, Kangana’s vagina, Rafa’s hot bod and bring friendship, fun and flirtation back into our relationship with the opposite sex. Political correctness be damned!

Originally appeared in The New Indian Express

WILL THE REAL INDIANS PLEASE STAND UP

Let’s get this over and done with. India is no more a Hindu nation than it is a Hindi speaking one. One of the nicest things we can say about this country is that since ancient times it has provided a home for diverse people who have little in common aside from the shared identity of being Indian. But what exactly does that even mean?
The more misguided among us would insist that the real Indian is a vegetarian, devout Hindu, Cow and Cricket worshipper, Hindi speaker, and Bollywood lover. Anybody who begs to differ of course is an anti – national terrorist who deserves to be lynched or trolled with the most abusive language that can be conjured from the diseased depths of a sick, extremely prejudiced mind.
Never mind that an overwhelming majority loves animals fried or roasted, buys all things made of leather at exorbitant prices, have been known to tuck in with relish into a steaming hot plate of chilli beef or go to town on a triple whopper. Some of us belong to other faiths or proudly declare ourselves to be atheists or agnostics. You wouldn’t believe it, but there are too many of us who prefer chess to cricket, don’t speak a word of Hindi, and haven’t yet hopped onto the Bollywood bandwagon, thank you very much.
   All those possessed with half a brain and a shred of decency would admit that preferences need not be confused with principles, that jingoistic nonsense cannot be tolerated let alone actively endorsed and the ridiculous notions upheld by those who ought to know better but don’t are beyond ludicrous. But how do we deal with those who cannot be reasoned with and are deranged enough to stoop to murder over idiotic ideology?
It behoves us to take a stand against those who would try to beat us into submission and force their divisive beliefs on us, which goes without saying. Yet, for the love of all things holy and unholy let us be Gandhian about it and rise above violence in word or deed. There is too much of hatred induced madness going around and it is tearing apart our motherland.
We need to acknowledge that for better or worse we are all Indians, despite the glaring differences between us. Without exception, we belong to a sprawling, extended family that is scarily dysfunctional and as far removed as it is possible to be from what Sooraj Barjatya would like to believe. And it is all the more reason for us to put up with each other’s nonsense, make nice even when it seems the hardest thing to do and find a way to live with each other. Getting mad at those who don’t see eye to eye with us will never help. Ever. Unless of course there is kissing and making up involved afterwards.

  Being Indian is a beautiful thing, which a lot of us take immense pride in. It is something worth doing everything in our power to preserve even if that means killing only with kindness and standing together, no matter what.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express 

SHE HAD IT COMING

In the aftermath of the Haryana stalking case, where Varnika Kundu was shamefully harassed by the Haryana BJP chief’s son Vikas Barala and his crony, Ashish Kumar, one feels assailed by a sinking sense of déjà vu. The accused were booked under lenient provisions for stalking, driving under the influence and wrongful restraint, all of which are bailable offenses though the victim had clearly spelt out in her statement that there was an attempt to abduct her which has far graver repercussions. The perpetrators who incidentally are law students were released in double quick time. 
            The rest of it is predictable. The Chandigarh BJP Vice President, Ramveer Bhatti weighed in and began the victim shaming in earnest enquiring whether a respectable girl would be out by midnight, driving all by herself. When outrage mounted against him and party colleague Kirron Kher called him out, he amended the statement saying that he merely meant that parents ought to keep a better eye on their children, male or female to prevent this sort of thing from happening. This is a remarkable example of victim shaming before pooh – poohing the suggestion that anything of the sort was done.
            Hollow assurances have been made asserting that justice will be served and those who are claiming that vested political interests are pressurising the police to let the privileged perps off the hook are talking out their butts. Needless to say nobody is convinced, and with the cynicism born of too many instances where our judicial system has let us down by failing to mete out timely and effective punishment, we know almost for certain that once the media furore has died down, the case will drag on in perpetuity, inevitably testing the resolve and the endurance of the victim who will be asked to establish her credentials as a ‘virtuous woman’.
            The striking feature of this case is that it drives home the point that after all this time and effort spent on creating awareness on how it is not okay to stalk, kill, harass and rape women, which is bloody obvious in the first place, for far too many people belonging to both sexes, every time a crime against a woman is committed it is invariably for the same reason – She had it coming!
            Though this antediluvian attitude in all probability will be looked at askance by men and women who read this respectable publication and by any discerning audience when it is brought up in panels to create awareness for women’s rights across the country where we all nod along uniformly, the fact is that the great majority which spawns the scum who violate the rights of women believe that she had it coming and of course she asked for it. How then do we deal with this malignant mind-set that has led to such profound tragedies?

            The answer could be not to expect male miscreants to change but ultimately, to stop being afraid that every guy out there is out to get you. Admittedly #NotAllMen are pricks though all pricks are men, so why make your life about the rotten apples? Fear is the drug that impels monsters to come out of the shadows to play their cruel games. Don’t be ashamed when you are slut shamed. It is obvious that those who refer to wronged women as whores are potty mouths with shit for brains and their crappy opinions are beneath you. Never ever let these execrable examples of excrescence get to you or make you question yourself. They are rat droppings who are underserving of your precious time and attention. Finally, don’t feel bad about treating a douchebag with the disdain he deserves. You know, he had it coming.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express 

WHY WE OUGHT NEVER TO TIRE OF RETELLING TALES FROM INDIAN MYTHOLOGY

The resurgence of all things mythological in the literary space is a welcome phenomenon and not only because many authors including yours truly have made a career out of this seemingly insatiable interest. Any book that can distract youngsters from their addiction to fancy gizmos designed to make douche bag zombies out of them by harkening back to the glories of an ancient time must be considered a truly marvellous accomplishment. In fact, offerings in this sphere have helped people from all age groups suffering from smartphone syndrome. Which is why it is encouraging when books in this genre especially when penned by the likes of Amish Tripathi, Anand Neelakantan and Kavita Kane sell like hotcakes with a little something illegal stirred into it. 
Yet, in keeping with the adage that where there is a demand there must be an excessive supply this trend has led to aficionados overdosing on the stuff and reaching saturation point. Publishing houses are spewing out endless mythology related titles featuring every single character from the Ramayana and Mahabharata into the sea of books that have already been written on the same, Many aspiring writers who dream of getting published feel that mythology is the way to go and contribute steadily to the massive influx.
In fact, there is even talk that one enterprising author has successfully pitched a book – proposal to a leading publishing house about a fly on the wall who happened to be present when Ravana and Mandodari were engaged in a heated debate over the unmitigated gall the former had displayed in kidnapping another man’s wife which the latter felt was a scathing indictment of the fact that her looks where no longer what they had been before she had borne him the warlike sons, he had insisted upon. The eponymous character is saving the details about the make-up sex that followed as well as his familiarity with Ravana’s bowel movements for a sequel. 

If this sort of desperation does not put off the faithful adherents to the genre then the infamous ‘Gau Rakshaks’ and religious doggerel spouting extremists will definitely do the trick. They have managed to take a lovely tradition and found a way to make it something unspeakably ugly by using it as a weapon to spread hate. 
If they had their way India would be a nation of clones brainwashed into toeing the line for jingoistic goons who would have us believe that ideally we should all turn vegetarian, embrace Hinduism, speak nothing but chaste Hindi, enforce modesty upon women by forcing them into clothes that cover up every inch of their bodies as well as chastity belts and figure out a way to reproduce by swallowing tears. Partying, kissing, hugging, sexual intercourse (Gasp!) and questions of sexual orientation (Double Gasp!) ought to be made taboo in the interest of preserving our culture of course.
Such regressive thinking has to be contained in order to prevent folks becoming allergic to all things related to Indian mythology, especially those who have been victimized and marginalized in its name. Which is why it is more important than ever to read retold versions of beloved tales in order to stop those who would purvey distortions and half – truths to further their twisted agenda. It is imperative to understand and familiarize oneself with the compelling philosophy, complex truths and pearls of wisdom bequeathed to us by the best minds of the past through this medium. And no, they were not intolerant jerks who sought to belittle and prosecute others over petty nonsense.
The noblest and greatest of our ancestors sought to teach us how to be better people and live rich fulfilling lives by learning to do the right thing by ourselves and others. There is nothing in the knowledge imparted to us over the eons that encourages us to be judgemental, badly behaved buffoons who would bully others into behaving in keeping with misguided beliefs.
By preserving the proper spirit of the past contained not just in Indian mythology but in those belonging to different parts of the world, passed on by storytellers, wandering minstrels, bards and yes, present day writers on the subject, we can find a way to deal with the horrors of the present in order to usher in a better future where sense prevails.

            

Saturday, March 04, 2017

A Charming Collection of Pure Unadulterated Brilliance: Ken Liu's THE PAPER MENAGERIE AND OTHER STORIES

Ken Liu has an enviable author biography with a slew of major awards to his name and with good reason. He is scarily good at what he does, writing with confidence, vision and enough flair to swim in. In other words, those who care deeply about beautifully written stories would do well to grab 'The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories'. There simply isn't a dud in this magnificent collection of gems which can be enjoyed by the head as well as the heart. 

These are stories that linger - deeply entertaining, educational, poignant and profound. Straggling the realms of science fiction and fantasy, while dipping into the sea of Asian mythology, legends and folklore, Ken Liu's work is suffused with the magical and mystical even when it is mired in the mundane. Irrespective of whether his tale is sci-fi at its most inventive like 'The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species' , 'The Waves' and 'An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparitive Cognition' or a crime procedural featuring cybernetically enhanced law enforcers in 'The Regular', at its heart they are all intensely compelling narratives replete with colourful, flawed and endearing characters. This allows the reader to be willingly pulled into Liu's world where it is possible to float on tingling sensation buoyed with good, old - fashioned emotional heft.

It is hard to pick a favourite from this collection but it is easy to see why 'The Paper Menagerie' gets pride of place having been the only short story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. As a child, Jack who is also the narrator finds himself having to deal with the fact that his American father had picked his Chinese mother out of a catalogue and the ramifications of this unconventional choice, which aren't pretty for a young boy in whose mind not fitting in is the equivalent of a death sentence. Driven by a terror of being stigmatized, he makes the irrevocable choice to reject his Chinese heritage, and in doing almost manages to destroy the things that are the most precious and magical in his life. This bittersweet story packs a wallop, dissecting the human heart and laying bare it's ability to love unconditionally as well as it's cruel capacity for rejecting even those who deserve better. It should come with a warning for this is soul searing stuff.

'Mono No Aware', truly deserving of its Hugo award is achingly beautiful, and to use the words of its hero, Hiroto feels like a kitten's tongue tickling the inside of my heart.
'All the Flavors' and 'The Litigation Master and the Monkey King' are particular favourites and thoroughly drool worthy. The former which is about the journey of the Chinese God of War in America is a  page - turner and finger - licking good. The latter like so many others in this collection will charm the pants off you and leave a lump in your throat.

'The Perfect Match',  'Simulacrum' and even 'Good Hunting' grapple with a very contemporary issue and explores humankind's scary willingness to be enslaved by technology. It is chilling, morbidly fascinating and all too relatable in today's world where most suffer from an incurable addiction to the gadgets in their lives.
At the onset Liu thanks the reader claiming that 'It is the possibility of our minds touching that makes writing a worthwhile endeavor at all.' This reviewer would like to thank him for making her so enamoured with this book, she would gladly marry it and have its babies.

An edited version of this review appeared in THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Celebrating Diwali without the Crap

There was a time when celebrating Diwali was simpler. It meant wearing new clothes, and sitting restlessly through pujas, the duration of which depended entirely on the austerity levels of the households one belonged to. The next step was listening to the tale of Narakasura’s violent life which came to an inevitably grisly conclusion at the hand of Krishna, which of course was the cause for centuries of celebration in honour of good triumphing over evil which in later years we cynically realized is history’s way of telling us that losers usually have their mistakes rubbed in their faces over and over again. Forever.
 Then the fun and games would begin. We got to stuff ourselves silly with sweets most of which were supersaturated with sugar before being deep fried in ghee, bursting too many crackers with gay abandon, and rushing off to crowded theatres to catch the Diwali releases. Mostly though it was a day of glorious celebration suffused with an unalloyed joy that would rejuvenate our tired souls, filling us with renewed vigour for whatever lay ahead.
Whatever has happened to the wonderful sense of wellbeing that nothing but an old – fashioned celebration can provide? How come we no longer believe that evil will be vanquished and good will shine through? Why have we allowed our faith as well as the lustre of the festival of lights to dim? 
Nowadays we see monsters everywhere and everyone is the enemy. Sugar and fat have both been declared as the real demons in a world where one of the greatest evils is love handles. Never mind that even science has decreed that a balanced diet means including everything in moderation. As for crackers, they are the devil’s toys contributing to pollution and must be avoided at all cost if you believe the celebs on social media who favour top of the line, high – priced gas guzzling automobiles  to get their bony behinds from one place to the other. Taking off to the theatres to forget our troubles over caramel popcorn and the turbulent drama in the lives of gorgeous people is no longer a relaxing pastime. Instead it is a political minefield where extremists flex their extortionist muscles forcing their hate – filled ideologies on us, effectively ruining the festive season. Enough is enough!  

Let us get over ourselves already and recapture the essence of Diwali, the whole point of which is to brighten our lives by dispelling the darkness that resides within and without. It is time to light a fire under intolerant backsides everywhere and resolve to respect the choices of others even if that includes gorging on sweets to the point where they risk worms tearing out chunks of a chubby caboose, lighting up a few flower pots, chakras and colourful sparklers with friends and family or watching a film starring artistes from a neighbouring nation (gasp!). Finally let us celebrate a traditional holiday with all our hearts, spreading warmth and happiness around till everyone is infected with the same.

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express 

Book Review: Burhan Sonmez's Istanbul Istanbul

Turkish writer, Burhan Sonmez’s Istanbul Istanbul is about four prisoners who are held without trial and tortured deep in the bowels of the city. Locked away in a windowless cell they are routinely dragged away along a narrow corridor, past an iron gate to where a world of endless torment awaits. When the guards see fit to return them to captivity more dead than alive they pick up the pieces of a broken body with the help of a marginally more resilient spirit and their cellmates to live out another day to the best of their abilities. A chilling detail is tossed in almost as an aside – in the cell opposite a woman is being held and her gender does not exclude her from the exact same brutal treatment meted out to the opposite sex.
            Yet Istanbul Istanbul is about none of these things simply because it refuses to dwell at length on the torture, pain and suffering or the gritty, stomach turning nature of these characters’ misfortune and spares us the graphic details. Instead, the four men choose to distance themselves from the unspeakable horrors they are being forced to endure and wile away the time by telling each other stories, retreating further and deeper into an imaginary realm until the immediacy of their situation acquires dreamlike contours. The reader is drawn in as well and the effect is disembodied and disconcerting to say the least.
            The stories themselves inspired by Boccaccio’s Decameron s are varied.  Some are naughty such as the tale of two nuns who discover a certain prosaic truth about exactly how fast a woman with her skirt up and a man with his pants down can run. Another involves fantastical man – eating wolves and some are downright bawdy including the one with a randy soldier and the sexcapade of a runaway Princess. These are funny, thought – provoking, bland or intensely philosophical.
            One thing these stories are not however are revelatory of their narrator’s background or circumstances that led to their current predicament. Early on, the prisoners warn a newcomer not to reveal any incriminatory evidence or reveal telling details about himself. As veterans of ill treatment they are aware that nothing good can come from spilling their guts.
            Despite the best efforts and extreme measures taken by their tormentors, the victims refuse to part with their secrets. The readers are treated roughly the same way. While allowed a free pass into the fantasies conjured by their coping mechanisms, the protagonists hold on to the  best part of themselves which is locked away deep inside leaving the onlookers out in the cold. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on personal perspective.

This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Message from a Reader!

It is just too bloody awesome when a reader finishes your book, takes time out of his life to hunt you down on Facebook and  reach out with a long, beautifully worded, delightfully complimentary message. That gooey feeling you get at moments like this is absolutely priceless! Have produced it below with permission:

Hello Mrs Anuja,
This is Rama – I have had the brilliant opportunity of reading your recent book: Yama’s Lieutenant. I was really enthralled by the writing and the tale itself, and thought of writing my appreciation to you directly. I have kept up with all your works, and I have noticed that you have a tendency to take tales of mythology which are hitherto little known in detail, and to spin a beautiful tale around it. I personally enjoyed your Kamadeva book a lot for this reason, for it not only spun an engrossing tale, but rather informed me of many aspects of Kamadeva which I otherwise might not have been able to unearth myself. Coming to Yama’s Lieutenant though, this by far is your best work and one of the finest books I have read. I am a huge mythology fan, and I have always noticed that authors usually tend to succeed when they write stories which are either grounded completely in mythology or in the contemporary, but falter significantly when it comes to combining both worlds. This is your truest success – this is the first and only book I have read as part of the Indian Mythology Pantheon that has made me forget that it is a combination of both contexts, and entirely drew me into the tale. The story itself is very unique and is a brilliant adaptation of the little known fact that Yama had a twin, and intelligently taps on the point of confusion that some consider Yami to be Yama’s wife, while others consider her to be his twin sister. By the time I was done with the book (in 2 days), I was very proud to have read such engaging writing with a very creative spin put on the story. You are one of the finest authors of India I daresay, and I wish you all success in all of your future endeavours, literary and otherwise. Do kindly keep writing, as I foresee that your books might stand as authority for certain little known aspects of Indian mythology in the future, such as the points on Yama and Kama. Finally, assuming that you are Tamil, it makes me extra proud that an author of my own beloved mother tongue has proceeded to writing such fascinating tales that captures the interests of the entire nation. All the best and thank you for your works!

 Really touched and have been grinning from ear to ear ever since I read it.  Aren't my readers the absolute best? I think so :)


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Aiyo!

All Indians are proud of their country and treat its citizens as brothers and sisters, their cultural and religious differences notwithstanding (at least in theory). But as long as anybody can remember the North and South Indians have regarded each other as curiosities to be viewed askance through the glass wall that is the Vindhyas. Down South, stereotypical versions of the Northerners include images of Punjabis going ‘balle balle’ and gorging on Tandoori chicken or evil ‘Sethjis’who chew paan and make Shylock seem like the very epitome of compassion. Thanks to Bollywood, it is assumed that South Indians live on noodles flavoured with curd when not stuffing their faces with idly and sambar, smearing their foreheads with liberal amounts of sacred ash and forever running around fluttering their hands to the steady accompaniment of ‘Aiyayo’ or ‘Aiyo’ for short.  
            The same South Indians who took umbrage for this less than accurate or flattering portrayal of their charming quirks are now doing a victory dance (or its Bharathanatyam equivalent to the accompaniment of the Mrithangam) thanks to Oxford Dictionary which has included the term ‘Aiyo’ as a new addition to its venerable lexicon. This newly minted, bona fide English phrase is an exclamation according to the revered Guardian of the world of English words, in Southern India and Sri Lanka, expressing distress, regret, or grief; ‘Oh no!’, ‘Oh dear!’.
            Those from traditional Southern households would tell you that the family elders tend to frown on the casual usage of the term ‘Aiyo’ by callow youngsters (‘Aiyo! I look fat in this selfie!’) because it is essentially a lament and they believe that it could serve as an invitation for calamity to strike. Rather like the much maligned boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ and was grievously and gruesomely punished with temporary accommodation in the belly of the predator for his lapse in judgement. But even those stern, bastions of tradition would no doubt approve of the recognition given this term which conveys pithy emotion so succinctly and will no doubt be less inclined to rap the knuckles of those who use it indiscriminately now that the said term has the blessing of Oxford Dictionary.
            In other good news for South Indians, ‘Ayya’ has also been accommodated by the definitive authorities of the English Language. For the uninformed, ‘Ayya’ is no relative of ‘Aiyo’. It is now defined as a noun, in Sri Lanka: an older brother. Or more generally: any older male relative or acquaintance. Frequently used as a form of address, having its origins in Tamil aiyan, ayyā father, also used to modify the word for ‘brother’ to convey the sense ‘elder’, and as a respectful form of address to male superiors more generally, ultimately from Sanskrit ārya.

            Those who have formerly been pulled up by Anglophiles and stern English teachers who speak pukka English and insist on the same, can relax and feel free to spice up the language with colourful epithets rich in vernacular flavour in the hope that someday even something as provocative as ‘Poda panni!’ (Get lost Pig! in Tamil) will someday win respectability. 

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express

Monday, October 03, 2016

How much Mythology is too much Mythology?

In recent times, the tidal wave of interest in mythology has become something of a publishing phenomenon. Thanks to the extraordinary success of the likes of Ashwin Sanghi, Anand Neelakantan, Devdutt Pattnaik and Amish Tripathi among others, the supposedly 33 crore deities from the Hindu pantheon have been retrieved from the musty passageways of memory and legend, dusted off, polished, retrofitted and propelled into the collective consciousness with gleaming, often  glamourous avatars. And the reading populace can’t get enough, it seems. Mythology appears to have become a safe bet as far as the publishers are concerned and hence, an endless stream of myth – based fiction is making its way to the marketplace. But is this surfeit of a good thing really a good thing? 
            On the one hand, one wishes that aspiring authors would quit it with the mythology obsession which if it continues at the present rate is surely going to make the taste of the flavour of the season cloying in the extreme and effectively kill the market. It is the hope that the scribblers write about something else or take up another career if it means making the field less competitive. But that would be indicative of selfish self – interest as this writer has a finger in the mythology pie and it would behove her to look at this question from an objective angle.
            While those with a religious frame of mind or an appreciation for our glorious culture and heritage are no doubt thrilled that youngsters have taken to Puranic lore in such a big way the more conservative among the populace are frothing at the mouth with some of the artistic liberties taken with the sacrosanct material that most first heard, while seated on the laps of their grandmothers who told the edifying stories just so, the way they heard it while sitting cross – legged on the earthen floor from their elders. In this brave new world though, the Gods are no longer all powerful entities who leave the pious quaking with love, awe or fear but they have been brought to the level of the mortals where one may get up close and personal with them and I daresay find a wart or two and even grey hairs, sorry, shades.
            This brand new relationship that has been forged with the supreme consciousness, appalling as it may be to some is nevertheless a wonderful thing. And before extremists grab their weapons of sweeping condemnation and moral outrage, allow me to elaborate. Indian culture with its grandiose, sweeping range and a major chunk of traditions, religious and otherwise that have been handed down over the millennia has survived despite repeated attacks by invaders who made short work of entire civilizations. And no, it is not a fluke.
The powerful Gods from Roman and Greek mythology rule only in the pages of charming fiction but are otherwise forgotten and certainly not worshipped. Youngsters hardly know the Norse Gods, excepting Thor and Loki, the mighty God of Thunder and his nemesis, who many believe to be the work of Stan Lee at his most creative. Have the Egyptian Gods or the way of life that came into being with the magnificent Nile – valley civilization retained their relevance?  What about the Incans, Maya or Aztecs? What spared India from a similar fate? 
While it has not been worked down to a science, the general consensus is that Indians have always had the ability to assimilate the best from other religions, cultures and traditions even if it belongs to a hated conqueror in order to incorporate the best others have to offer with the vastness of the precious knowledge that was no doubt accumulated in the same way and make it their own. It is through this remarkably symbiotic process that the gifts of our predecessors in the fields of art, science, philosophy etc. have been preserved and we ensure that the presents of the past survives the merciless sands of time. If that is not a beautiful thing I don’t know what is!
Likewise, if the modern era demands that we re-examine the way we choose to connect with our Gods and Goddesses, treating them as friends, adversaries or intriguing puzzles that need to be scrutinized every which way, surely there is nothing wrong with it? Because for the most part, readers pick up these new – fangled books not merely because they are a fad or an amusing curiosity but out of an underlying sense of love and deep respect for a culture and heritage that is exclusively our own and one we can take rightful pride in.
This abiding affinity for all things Indian be it myth, pickles or item numbers allows us to stay connected to our roots and feel the sanctuary of a grandmother’s lap even as we find ourselves barrelling across the highway of life, heading for strange shores to make our homes, embracing cutting – edge technology and contributing to it or wrapping our heads around ideas and notions that are entirely foreign but have been accepted as the norm. Why then should we disparage authors for taking the mythology that is common to all of us and doing with it what they will if it means that our children and their children will keep the treasure trove of the best of our ancient beliefs close to their hearts and value it forever? 

Hopefully future generations will take the old stories, add a little something new in keeping with their times and infuse it with a delicious irreverence that will make the most sacrilegious and contentious authors of the present day puke blood or roll in their graves. That would be fine too, because ultimately we cannot have too much of a good thing when it is our good thing.   

An edited version of this piece was published in Creative India

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I'VE GOT MAIL

It has been a lovely Sunday. I made awesome Mughal Biriyani for one of my fave people in the world who came home for lunch. She is one of those people who brightens up the place by just showing up. Got the loveliest present ever from her too!

It had the cutest ear - rings inside in my fave color!
The day got better from there! I found this sweet email from a reader with the subject line: "Thank you for your Shakti." What followed had to be among the most heartwarming feedback, I have ever received. Do check it out :) I have produced it below with permission:

 Hey this is Hariny from Madurai. To be clear I am in class 12(Lakshmi School).. not the respectable age where you ought to forsake your textbooks for anything else! I randomly picked up Shakti- The Divine Feminine and I think that moment had such  a momentous effect on my thoughts later. It has been very long since any book entranced me like this. Not just any normal urge to finish the book...but a huge addiction where even when I wasn't reading it , my thoughts were swirling round and round Shakti. It’s been so long since I read anything that didn't consist of physics , chemistry and maths. Somehow despite what everybody said I clung on to the book everywhere...during class hours(sneakily reading under the desk) , bus journeys , hospital waiting areas ..to be honest even in the loo.I am typing this just having finished the book and I am very sure that the book is rarely going to be out of my thoughts for the next few weeks at least. The language was so vintage and rich cascading right off the book to my brain making me lie awake all night , haunted and deep in thought. This mail is to thank this amazing woman for such a classic novel that provided a highly vivid languorous experience. Thank you so much! ..you are wonderful!  
And this after Archit Ojha, CEO of A Million Minds, had this to say about Yama's Lieutenant:  "'Yama's Lieutenant' has everything that I could have asked for in a book." You can check out the rest of the review here.