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My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy

There is gentleness in Zeba’s intimate story; the fragile relationship with her mother, the silences lingering between them, the possessive nature only a child can have for a parent, the way Zeba would want to know her mother’s movement, watching her like a hawk. Zeba grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia but both her parents were from India. This meant spending summer vacations in a small town in Karnataka, going back and forth between Sirsi( her mother’s home) and honnavar, where her dad grew up. In one of the many instances of growing up in a traditional household where the man works and the woman takes charge of domestic work, Zeba’s mother was preparing for a party but accidentally hurt herself. She was in immense pain and Zeba called her father from work. But in the evening, the guests arrived, exotic delicacies were served, the party went on as if nothing happened. The slow unraveling of the roles society has forced upon women was not lost on Zeba. Throughout her memoir, she wonders about the silence that existed in her house, so many instances where her mama resorted to maintaining peace in the family instead of confronting the wrongs. The grip of patriarchy and the unreal societal expectations that continue to suppress women, often leaning towards the adage of men being without reproach. Zeba’s dissent meant a direct insult to motherhood. It was a constant pull and push, where the fear existed between a mother and daughter, further alienating them from each other.

Growing up, the author talks about the differences in her life as compared to India. The moral police restricted the movement of women, where freedom was only a myth and since she was from a South-Asian heritage, she felt like she didn’t belong. Expressing her precarious place in Jeddah meant committing blasphemy & so Zeba kept to herself. When Zeba’s hair started thinning, her mother was appalled. She was taken to several doctors who prescribed myriad remedies, treatments & surgeries. A lot of importance is given to conventional standards of beauty especial in South-Asian communities, as if beauty alone can absolve one of sins. Naturally, the author faced bullying mainly from her relatives who wanted a piece of gossip. Zeba took to wearing her headscarf and didn’t let this define her life. 

In between standing up for herself, and moving to India for her graduation to pursuing MA in publishing in Germany to later moving to UK, Zeba talks about her faith, being a Muslim feminist in a world that’s hell bent on saving ‘Muslim women’, racism, lack of representation and radical selfcare. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Zeba tenderly discusses the ramifications of patriarchy on the generation of our mothers and also the generation that has come after. We’re still reeling from the shackles put in place, often putting each other down, when the problem has never been us. 

I was rooting for Zeba, cheering her on whenever she felt stuck, but I was rooting for her mother too. The silence that stretched between them, ended when her mother spoke for her. It broke so many layers of oppression because one woman decided it would end here. For the many women who have come before us, and the many woman who decided to choose their own path, I hope we continue to find the courage to be ourselves in a world that’s trying hard to stifle our voice. I felt seen, I felt represented, I felt I didn’t need to pander to values I didn’t believe in and for that I’m really grateful to Zeba.

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My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy

There is gentleness in Zeba’s intimate story; the fragile relationship with her mother, the silences lingering between them, the possessive nature only a child can have for a parent, the way Zeba would want to know her mother’s movement, watching her like a hawk. Zeba grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia but both her parents … Continue reading “My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy”

Finding the ‘new’ normal: Dealing with uncertainty and navigating through life in the midst of a pandemic.

I gave myself six months at the start of 2020 to figure out a career plan. I quit my full-time job to pursue writing and editing as a freelancer. Naturally, I was skeptical and uncertain. It’s always nerve-wracking leaving the certainty of a monthly paycheck to dabble in something as shaky as freelancing. But I … Continue reading “Finding the ‘new’ normal: Dealing with uncertainty and navigating through life in the midst of a pandemic.”

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How To Pitch Articles to Magazines/Online Publications

Follow these easy tips to pitch an article!

I started freelancing last year & ever since, pitching articles has always been the most intimidating process for me. Now that I have applied to multiple places, multiple times, it’s no longer as difficult as it appeared earlier.

If you’re thinking of pitching to magazines or online publications, here are a few tips to keep in mind!

 Article idea:

Only having an article idea isn’t enough. You have to research and be able to back it up with facts. Once you have an idea, spend a day or two mulling over it, looking up for sources online, or making sure your idea is unique or hasn’t already been attempted. It’s important to ensure you’re invested in the article to be able to write from the heart. 

Understand the requirements:

Before you start sending out pitches, please go through the magazine websites to familiarize yourself with their submission guidelines, the kind of articles they publish, and whether or not they’re commissioning articles at the moment. A lot of the times a magazine already has enough materials & they’re not looking for articles. You can pitch the same article to multiple magazines if they fit the submission guidelines. Prepare in advance: This is something I prefer doing but you can choose to skip it. If I’m sure of the publication I want to pitch an article to, I always have a first draft written. It gives me an idea of what the article will look like, the estimated word count, and the structure. This is helpful when you sit down to write the email. 

Writing Samples

  If you’re starting out, look for publications that accept writing samples that are not published. Most of them want experienced writers who have had their articles published somewhere. But it’s okay, don’t feel disheartened. There are several more platforms where you can submit unpublished writing samples. 

 Choose carefully:

When you’re attaching the writing samples, choose the ones that mirror the ideology and style of the publication or is the closest to their agenda. You may write a sample that fits their requirement if you really want to hear from them( but it’s not mandatory). 

Now that we have the basics out of the picture, let’s get down to writing that cover pitch.

· Subject

Mention the name of the article in your subject line. The editors are flooded with emails everyday and they mostly don’t spend much time on a single email. To make it easier for them, it’s better to write the title of the article and get it over with.

· Body

Now every submission guideline is different, but most publications want you to give a short summary of 50 words explaining what the article is about. Here is where your creativity and email writing skills come to use. Is it a personal essay or a feature or literary criticism? Why should they publish your article? What is unique about your story? What will be the target audience? Why will the readers want to read it? The idea is to perk the editor’s interest in the beginning itself. Be as direct as possible. 

· Estimated word count

Remember how I asked you to have the first draft ready? Here is where it comes to use. Giving an estimate word count is always helpful and prepares the editor. A lot of magazines require you to give the word count. 

· Offer a proposed deadline:

Don’t be too ambitious & say you’ll submit the article in a day. But think carefully and give a proposed deadline. This makes the editor feel you’re not fooling around and that you’re serious about the work. Your deadline will also depend on your research; the people you want to interview, the field-work (if any) required for your article. 

Attach your writing samples, preferably 2-3. 

· Follow-up:

Magazines or any online publication receive hundreds of emails every day which makes it humanly impossible to reply immediately. If you haven’t received a reply, send a polite follow-up email, inquiring about the pitch you sent. A lot of editors don’t revert, so take this as a reply, and try sending out more pitches. But do not be disrespectful and hound them. 

· Be patient:

These are just tips. At the end of the day, your writing is what’s going to get you that writing gig. A lot of the times, it gets frustrating and you may want to give up. But that’s part of being a writer. Just keep at it.

I hope the above tips were helpful. If you’ve got something more to add, please let me know!

Till then, keep writing!

Meanwhile, check out this personal essay: Of Losses; big or small

The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas: A story of love, art & loss in the midst of political turmoil.

Art connects. Art brings you back from the depths of the earth, shakes you and makes you step outside of your little world, and create something you didn’t think you were capable of. The beauty & power of art is infinite, it’s capacity limitless. It transforms and recreates and gives birth to revolution, to freedom, … Continue reading “The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas: A story of love, art & loss in the midst of political turmoil.”

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson: A personal memoir of lost loss, and the search for love.

Winterson says, ‘Adopted children are dislodged. My mother felt that the whole of life was a grand dislodgement. We both wanted to go home.’ A harrowing childhood of being locked in a coal-hole, punishment by means of sleeping on the front porch all night, undergoing exorcism for having an affair with a girl, and spending … Continue reading “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson: A personal memoir of lost loss, and the search for love.”

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A River In Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa: One man’s escape from North Korea

One man’s escape from the hermit kingdom, North Korea

Translated by Martin Brown & Rise Koyabashi

I looked up the author online. That’s the first thing I did when I finished reading the book. There’s no trace of him anywhere. No clue as to how the book came into being. As Masaji writes in his memoir, he felt invisible in North Korea, people looked through him, as if he wasn’t there. And in real life too, perhaps, he is invisible.

In what can be called a cursed fate, Masaji’s world was divided as soon as he was born; His mother was Japanese and his drunk, wife-beating, abusive father was Korean. He spent most of his childhood in Japan where his family lived from meal to meal but there was dignity in his daily life. During 1950s mass propaganda by the Japanese government led to most Koreans living in Japan to believe that North Korea was ‘a paradise on land’, ‘a land of milk and honey’ , where ‘a first-class education for your children’ was guaranteed. Most Koreans were racially discriminated, poverty gnawing at them at every step. Naturally, the promise of a better life, and most importantly, food, was enough for people to reconsider. Kim Sung II proclaimed he was building a socialist utopia known as the Chollima Movement. This period saw mass repatriation, in fact the only time in history where people moved from a capitalist country to a socialist country. When Masaji’s father announced they were repatriating to North Korea, he knew it would be the end of his family.

North Korea is a totalitarian government, functioning on mass paranoia of people, uncontrollable propaganda, barbaric laws and policies that get you killed, or sent to camps as political prisoners for being a ‘capitalist’ or a ‘liberal’. Since Masaji wasn’t born in NK, he knew what a liberal democracy looked like unlike the people living there. They were brainwashed to become slaves to a pseudo -religious cult as soon as they were born and came to revere their supreme leader as god. Masaji’s life only got worse. Starvation was the number one reason. There just wasn’t enough to eat. They barely scrapped through by boiling rice gruels, eating tree barks, sometimes cabbage that had rotten, other times stealing or picking up leftovers from trashcans. Since they had moved from Japan, they were called ‘returnees’, the lowest of the lows. Despite over-working, they barely got enough food ration. His family was barely surviving, the bodies of his children looked like skeletons. That’s when he decided to escape North Korea, after 36 years. Masaji left his family in hopes for a better life in Japan but his home country didn’t do anything for him either. There’s still no information if he was able to get his family back with him. His wife died a futile death, waiting for him. I have no idea where his children are. I want to say that the book is a testimony to indomitable human spirit but why must humans be reduced to such a pitiful state? Why are thousands upon thousands of North Koreans surviving because they have nowhere else to go? It’s a gross violation of human rights and absolute contempt of a county for its citizens. It’s a harrowing tale of one man’s escape from the evil, evil country that is North Korea

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Finding the ‘new’ normal: Dealing with uncertainty and navigating through life in the midst of a pandemic.

I gave myself six months at the start of 2020 to figure out a career plan. I quit my full-time job to pursue writing and editing as a freelancer. Naturally, I was skeptical and uncertain. It’s always nerve-wracking leaving the certainty of a monthly paycheck to dabble in something as shaky as freelancing. But I was convinced of the path I wanted to take, so I took the plunge. Things were going smooth as far as freelancing was concerned and then everything came to a halt. It was as if I was in the middle of a performance where minutes before the end scene, there was a technical difficulty and the lights went off. I’m standing there bewildered, nervously glancing here and there to find answers, surrounded by equally anxious actors on stage, who, just like me, have absolutely no idea what went wrong. Suddenly the lights come back, I can see the relief pass through the faces of my teachers, standing in the wings, frantically waving their hands to go on as if nothing happened, as if the temporary halt was part of the plan. 

 But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, the end seems elusive, your part in the play never ending. You’re the audience and the actor. 

 I see my father reading the news or watching as the number of coronavirus cases go up exponentially. I wonder what goes through his head. As a man belonging to the era of extreme hustle & blind commitment to the business, he has never taken a day off. ‘I feel better when I’m at work,’ he’d retort when questioned about putting strain on his health every time he’s sick. The show must go on has always been his way of dealing with life’s curveballs. He switches to another news channel, clutching the remote, as if trying to have some semblance of control. We sit silently in the room, the news anchors yelling obscenities in the background. I have a book in my hand, and my dad is pretending to hear the verbal diarrhea projected on screen. None of us is registering what’s happening but we’re too afraid to address the elephant in the room, too afraid to admit the uncertainty.  

The first week of the lockdown sent us into the pits of anxiety-induced confusion. Every household is built on a system that enables the smooth functioning of everyday lives. But when the system itself is forced to change abruptly without a manual, adapting becomes wearying especially if you’re living in a joint family—where every chore is assigned, and every task is mechanical. We ran around like headless chickens on the first day of the lockdown, trying to put in place an order. What the order was, we didn’t know. My mother took charge as she always does, reassuring us, believing everything would work out. I could see the hesitancy in her eyes, the lines on her forehead telling a different story. 

That’s the thing about the precariousness of life—your carefully crafted plans seem flimsy, as if a strong wind will collapse the very foundations on which you’ve built your life. We unlearned our habits, inculcated new routines albeit forcefully, and started rebuilding what we thought would never break. A new order was soon put in place. 

The second week of the lockdown didn’t seem as taxing. We still didn’t know how things were taking shape but whatever we were doing was working. For now, it was enough. At the back of our heads, we knew the lockdown was necessary and there was a silver lining of things getting back to normal after 21 days. Holding onto this sliver of hope, helped us get through the uneasiness that had spread like wildfire. But soon enough, the inevitability of extension, drew nearer. We rallied through, praying fervently, for the worst to pass. At the end of the day, we had food on our tables, our loved ones safe with us, and a shelter on our heads. It was more than we could ask for.

Days turned into weeks, and we started making adjustments, as many as we could, to find a new normal. Our mornings seem to have fallen into a new rhythm, getting used to having the entire family together at meal times, bumping into each other more often, wondering at the closeness we didn’t think was achievable. Evenings, these days, have a quietness of their own. We indulge in evening snacks, sipping teas and discussing nothing in particular as the world continues to move forward. Board games now dictate our lives as we gather around to pass time, laughing at the madness of it all, letting our competitiveness channel itself in mild banters. Life events are now measured in pandemic terms—pre-pandemic, where our mundane lives were uninterrupted, and post-pandemic, where our pent-up desires will play out in the form of excessive physical interactions and new-found appreciation for the outside world. The middle is where we linger, in the confines of our homes. 

We all go back to playing the designated roles every single day. Whether it’s taking online classes, editing a manuscript, completing the assigned menial jobs and making sure there’s movement in our lives, there’s hope in our hearts. A new order is finally in place, this time, waiting to be disrupted. 

These days my dad passes by my room and stops for a minute, smiling and nodding his head. He then leaves. There is no need to exchange words anymore, we both understand and prefer the silence that is familiar and comforting.

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson: A personal memoir of lost loss, and the search for love.

Winterson says, ‘Adopted children are dislodged. My mother felt that the whole of life was a grand dislodgement. We both wanted to go home.’ A harrowing childhood of being locked in a coal-hole, punishment by means of sleeping on the front porch all night, undergoing exorcism for having an affair with a girl, and spending most of your life feeling like you didn’t belong. With sheer courage and honesty, Winterson in her personal memoir, talks about being adopted in a Pentecostal family bordering on religious fanaticism. Mrs Winterson, as the writer addresses her mother throughout the book, was suffering from depression, fighting demons of her own and waiting for the Apocalypse. She believed she was brought into the world to suffer. 

Mrs Winterson despised happiness, as the word in itself was tainted with sins. Perhaps, she didn’t know how happiness felt like so she stopped her daughter from pursuing it herself. Jeanette’s love for the written word was soon stamped and punched to the ground by her mother who burnt all her textbooks. It didn’t deter the author because she started memorizing the texts. How can her mother snatch the words that were now written in her soul?

The title of the book is taken from Mrs Winterson’s admonition upon finding out Jeanette’s affair with a girl. She retorts, ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’

But the author also talks of the way words saved her from herself. The more her mother tried to drown her, the more she felt liberated. The power of language, of stories, of escape, wasn’t lost to her. The first half of the book is a tale of a wounded childhood, of the desperate need to belong somewhere. It’s also filled with lessons learnt the hard way. The second half, according to me, was written hurriedly as if the author was trying to see how it ends. Winterson went on to becoming a successful author, falling in and out of love before finding the ‘one’. All her life, Winterson felt, she wasn’t loved. How could she? Her biological mother gave her up for adoption when she was six-weeks old, and she was brought up by a tyrant who couldn’t see her as human. 

The quest to find her biological mother, Ann, turns into a rigorous path as Winterson comes to a painful realization; she maybe be adopted but her identity is shaped by her upbringing. She feels as far away from her own mother as she did with Mrs Winterson.  She says, ‘ I notice that I hate Ann criticizing Mrs Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster.’

Despite the violent childhood and a series of ‘lost loss’, this memoir ends with acceptance. It directs you to march ahead, to always seek love where ever you go. 

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Boredom in the time of Quarantine: Finding comfort in stillness

Embracing stillness and adapting to the mundane.

A few days have passed since the lockdown was announced. We’re all counting days, talking about a life post-pandemic, spending our time making future plans of what we’re going to do once the worst has passed, waiting to see which restaurants will see hordes of people stuffing their faces with anything that’s not home-made food, which companies will witness a spike in sales for things we don’t need. If anything, self-isolation has been unrelenting in its pursuit of teaching us to live without things we thought we needed.

 The current scenario has aggressively dismantled the very structures on which we built systems to keep us going. Our lifestyles are heavily influenced by new-age media, the increasing effect of capitalism, of a desperate need to always be ‘doing’ something. Social media will tell you to never give up, to always keep striving towards your goal, to sacrifice sleep if you ever want to accomplish anything. Ever since college days, I’ve kept myself occupied with more than I could handle. While staying busy in this day and age is a blessing (this is also a man-made construct), I no longer know how to deal with boredom. I do not know what to do with this ennui. People, in order to avoid feeling bored, attempt things that are bizarre as much as they are unnecessary. Our need to always have something to do, whether mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, or binge-watching a show for the 20th time, or killing ourselves over jobs that are impermanent, have created a disconnect from the self. It’s worrying how even during a pandemic we’re supposed to be working, keeping our productivity at optimum levels, making sure we’re still ticking things off our list, that failure to finish said tasks sends us spiralling deep down into an abyss of guilt and self-doubt. Why can’t we sit in our rooms without distraction? How long can we go without checking our phone before we combust into meaninglessness? Why is there a continuous need for incentive? The need to overcome our inherent existential crisis often manifests through over-indulgence in any form of stimulation. Social psychologist and philosopher, Eric Fromm believes boredom to be ‘the most important source of aggression and destructiveness’. According to him, our constant search for thrill, for adventure, for anything to fill this huge hole in our lives, is not a solution but merely a distraction. We’re going around in circles to attain the unattainable. 

 The word ‘boredom’ was used by Charles Dickens, as an emotional state, in his serial, Bleak House. That was the first-time boredom was described as a state of being, although the word ‘boredom’ originated way back. It wasn’t till the 19th century that scientists started taking an interest in this weirdly existential phenomena of nothingness.  The 21st century or the ‘pop culture’ era can shrug this feeling of as ‘meh’. Anything that is dull or tedious or which single-handedly brings down the energy level is MEH. 

But is boredom lethal? I think not. As Jenny Odell, author of, How To Do Nothing, writes, ‘I consider “doing nothing” both as a kind of deprogramming device and as sustenance for those feeling too disassembled to act meaningfully’. Odell’s book aims to disengage people from the attention economy, to curb economic insecurity, and help realize the potential of doing nothing. Being at home, it’s natural to feel bored. It may exacerbate feelings of existential anxiety but doing nothing is as essential as productivity. When you start acknowledging the stillness as equally important to your life without assigning any deep-rooted bias, these feelings wither, they change shape, and you begin to feel as if a weight has been lifted, helping you further to stay afloat.

 We’re going through an unprecedented time where our resources are being stretched, human lives are being lost and put at risk, and our economy is on the verge of collapse. Perhaps, during this time, not doing anything is how we cope. We cope by sitting by ourselves, staring into the night-sky as it transforms into morning light, we cope by watching how our neighbors spend their evenings crowding on their terrace, and we talk to our family—we notice how our parents seem to be drifting into the inevitability of ageing, we watch our siblings, who are still in school, deal with a crisis not part of their curriculum, and we observe. We pay attention to how humans are adapting to change, how the will to keep moving forward surpasses the unpredictability of our lives and we learn. We learn to shed our inhibitions, we unlearn societal constructs of prejudice, of class, of color. We learn to just be. When all this is over, and it’ll be over soon, let’s hope we wear the feeling of nothingness as second skin, embracing it and letting it sit with us. 

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Coming Out As Dalit by Yashica Dutt: Caste violence, systemic oppression and owning one's identity.

In this memoir, Yashica with great sincerity reveals how she spent most of her life running away from her reality, one she didn’t even question. She writes, ‘ I never saw caste for what it really is—the invisible arm that turns the gears in nearly every system in our country. It’s been working silently for so long that we have stopped noticing it, even though it exists all around us.’

The act of changing one’s appearance, picking up new habits and trying to lead a double life became pretty common in the caste system of Modern India whereby lower castes started to adopt upper-caste traditions to get ahead. The term, Sanskritization, was popularized by M.N.Srinivas which was as true as it was unjust. Yashica Dutt spent all her life, hiding her ‘Dalit’ identity from her school friends, up until she went to Columbia to pursue her Master’s in Journalism. Her mother, Shashi, wanted to leave no trace of their ‘Dalit’ identity, didn’t want to carry it along with her or pass it to her kids in fear of them being ostracized from the society. She didn’t want their Dalitness to stick to them. In an attempt to be considered as a fully functioning part of the society, she started changing her lifestyle, wearing saris and buying expensive clothes for her daughters to pass off as upper-caste. Yashica narrates how her mother left no stone unturned when it came to giving her children a good education and ultimately a chance to have a normal life even though the whole ‘act’ of passing off as upper-caste soon dissolved into oblivion due to financial restraints—something all Dalits including Yashica’s family struggled with most of her life .

 In this memoir, Yashica with great sincerity reveals how she spent most of her life running away from her reality, one she didn’t even question. She writes, ‘ I never saw caste for what it really is—the invisible arm that turns the gears in nearly every system in our country. It’s been working silently for so long that we have stopped noticing it, even though it exists all around us.’  We may not want to accept the caste supremacy still very much prevalent and spreading like wildfire here in India but many Dalits continue to face the brunt of systemic oppression that has eaten the very fabric of a just nation. Yashica hid her identity to escape systemic caste discrimination. Rohith Vermula’s death sparked nation-wide protests demanding an end to systemic caste-based discrimination and institutional oppression. His death also ignited something in Yashica. She wrote a Facebook post, revealing her Dalit identity, which came as quite a shock to people who knew her. For her, this was no longer being afraid of her identity, one she worked so hard to push out of her existence. It was like the fog had cleared, and she could see herself for who she really was. 

Yashica points out cruel treatment meted out to Dalits, the glaring flaws in not just the Indian education system but nearly every job sector, the entire narrative around reservation, lack of accessible opportunities, zero representation of Dalit voices in movies, arts or academia. Furthermore, she sheds light on Dalit woman who are not only suffering caste violence but have no bodily autonomy, a recurrent patriarchal notion of women not having claim to their own body. Upper-caste men use mutilation, public humiliation to silence Dalit women. It’s just another way of making them know their place in the society. Drawing parallels from black women across US, who just like Dalit women, feel under-represented by feminist movements, Yashica writes that upper-caste women only seemed to focus on issues that directly affected them, refusing to acknowledge the struggles of Dalit women. 

We grow up being told segregation exists. We’re already given a tier in the hierarchal system of caste. It doesn’t come as a surprise that prejudice, discrimination & oppression are elements of a skewed society that only seems to be exacerbating. During my teaching years, I would often be asked what my religion was by a number of students. Their questions came from a place of innocence, but mainly, from conversations happening at home. It wasn’t enough to tell them I was ‘Muslim’ because not only would I be met with surprise but some would take it further to ask, ‘Sunni or Shia?’. I never took it as an offence and would always tell them it doesn’t really matter, does it? After which they would drop the question and forget about it. Caste system has seeped into every layer of our being, taking shape and molding itself in subtle ways. You might say our family doesn’t believe in caste but it’s just your privilege talking. To assume, caste is a thing of the past, is shirking off accountability and giving up your privilege. 

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15 crime thrillers that should be on your list: From psychological drama to sci-fi to classic whodunit.

All of us need that adrenaline rush once in a while. When your heart is pumping so fast, it’ll almost come out of your mouth. Thrillers are my got-to reads. I’ve been a sucker for psychological thrillers since the past year but I wouldn’t mind the classic cat and mouse chase either. If you’re looking for a read that’s immersive as much as it is ‘I-was-at-the-edge-of-my-seat-throughout’ kinda read, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve listed some of my favourite reads, some I read a few years ago, some I read last week. Please note I haven’t read every thriller out there and I’ve barely even scratched the surface, but hey, I’m getting there, one book at a time.

  1. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides: When the psychotherapist Theo, wants to treat Alicia, the woman who shot her husband five times, the entire spectacle becomes the talk of the town. Alex’s novel had me hooked right from the beginning. Alicia stopped talking right after the murder. No one knows why she did it. But Theo is hellbent on finding answers. I can’t believe this Alex’s debut novel. I thought I had all the answers but I was so wrong! I’ve written a detailed review here: https://www.instagram.com/p/ByaHuODg9OU/

2. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinka Braithwaite: The title is self-explanatory here. We have a killer, heck we even know who the killer is. We have a knife, we have the murder weapon. So how is this a thriller? At the heart of the novel, the author has highlighted how manipulative and toxic familial relationships can be, the abuse one tends to tolerate and accept under the guise of sibling love-the myriad ways in which we are ready to defend those close to us. It’s a unique take on a thriller and I absolutely love how the author has pulled it off.

You can read the review here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BxXmNrvnaUt/

3. The Flower Girls by Alice Clark Platts: I read this book sometime last year and I was completely surprised by the twist. I was buddy reading it with a bunch of other readers & we spent hours discussing the ending. And it’s exactly the kind of book I live for. From the start, the author plays with your mind. When Laurel and Primrose kill and torture two-year old Kristie Swan, they become infamous. Mainly because they’re 10 and 6, respectively. Laurel is imprisoned but Primrose is considered too young for the crime and given a new identity. 19 years later, another child is goes missing in the very same place where one of the flower girls is staying. Secrets start tumbling out and the past resurfaces one again. I would highly recommend picking this one up.

You can read my review here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt_bqovHJUV/

4.) Lullaby by Leila Slimani: This book creeped the living insides out of me. It was unsettling on so many levels and is possibly my worst nightmare come true. Since I absolutely love torturing myself, I go out of my way to read books that keep me up all night. The book starts with the death of two children at the hands of their Nanny(not a spoiler). The rest of the story is a build-up of why and how.

You can read my review here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BsVmh1uncJt/

5.) See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt: Based on a real life event, this murder that took place in America of 1892, is regarded as one of the most notorious murders of all times and rightly so. Sarah’s novel is a reimagining of the brutal murders of the Borden family. It is said that Lizzie borden, daughter of Andrew & Abby Borden, axed her parents to death. Till date, no one has been able to identify the true killer. There are several theories and documentaries on the same. It’s a great mystery/murder thriller. I loved reading it.

You can read my review here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BhLiSqylADu/

6.) The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: You know when you read the blurb for a book and you know you HAVE to read it? This is one such book. It’s a psychological thriller like never before. 11 year old Anna O’Donell is considered a miracle child because she hasn’t eaten anything in months but seems to be a healthy child. A young nurse, Lib Wright, is sent to the impoverished village to discover the truth. Tourists are thronging to take a look at the child, the media wants to sensationalise the news & her parents wouldn’t a thing. Read it because you’ll be blown away by the ending!

7.)Dark Matter by Blake Crounch: I have never read sci-fi before this & I didn’t know what to expect. But boy was I in for a surprise. Blake Crouch’s book takes you into the world of multiverses, quantum physics, alternate realities and so much more. He makes it so simple for you to understand without having to google every single thing you’re reading. Reading the book was almost like watching a movie; the descriptions were so vivid, the characters so well sketched and the plot hitting all the feels at all the right places. His next book Recursion is next on my list and I’m pumped.

8.) The Devotion of Suspect X: Keigo Higashino is one of the finest Japanese authors when it comes to thriller & psychological drama. I can’t recommend this book enough mainly because it deals with emotions thriller’s usually don’t. At the heart of the novel, it’s a love story and the ultimate test of your faith and devotion to the one you love. The gripping plot alongside the twists will make you flip pages as if your life depends on it. While we’re at it, I would also recommend Malice and Newcomer by Keigo.

9) My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing: A married couple want to keep the spark alive in their relationship by indulging in habits that are quite unusual. Nothing wrong with that, right? Except their ‘habit’ involves murder. The ordinary suburban couple bond over a list of people they could possibly murder. Samantha downing’s delicious debut novel takes sinister crimes to another level. Her next book, He Started It, is coming out in April this year which is also a psychological thriller. I am super-excited.

10.) Call me Evie by J.P.Pomare: A young girl is kept hostage in a beach town in New Zealand by a man who calls himself Jim. In a disturbing premise, this girl has no memory of what happened in the past and her reason to be here. There’s a dark shadow looming around when it comes to the identity of this person keeping her captive. This girl has done something so terrible back in Melbourne that people are looking for her. She’s scared, sedated and kept in this remote place for her own safety. J.P.Pomare created a promising story, with several layers of suspicion, that I devoured the page in two days just to get to the bottom of all this mess. It’s unputdownable.

11.) Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall: This debut novel took me by surprise. With themes of obsession, loyalty, love, and desire, Araminta weaves a complicated story of Mike and Verity, two people insanely in love with each other or so we think so. Mike has moulded himself into an ideal man, someone who is worthy of being with Verity. He knows she’s in love with him, if he tries a little bit harder and understands all the signs. Except Verity is married and is not returning his calls. It’s a darkly twisted novel of love gone wrong.

12.) Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh: Anna is trying to come to terms with the death of both her parents. A year ago, Caroline Johnson, ended her life in a manner that was similar to that of her husband. Police say it is suicide but Anna is sure it’s murder. The answer is sinister at best & involves leaving behind everything Anna has believed so far. Just when you think you know where the story is going, Clare proves you wrong. I See You and I Let You Go are other stunning psychological novels by the author.

13.) Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh: Eileen is a young woman of 24 who suffers from extreme lack of self-esteem, spending most of her life in self-loathing. Stuck with an alcoholic father who forces his usual qualms on her, Eileen dreams of escaping into the unknown and start her life afresh. Eileen works at a juvenile prison where a girl named Rebecca arrives, changing her life forever. Without even realising Eileen is dragged into a crime, she has nothing to do with. Ottessa’s characters are unreliable, flawed and as real as humans can get. It’s a disturbing story accompanied by characters you will loathe but which will keep you turning the pages.

14.) The Good Girl by Mary Kubica: I had one of those moments where after finishing the last chapter, I had to take a few minutes to calm down. When Mia’s boyfriend doesn’t turn up at the bar, she decides to leave with a stranger, Colin. But things soon start to go terribly wrong when Colin keeps Mia secluded in a cabin instead of dropping her back safely. Detective Gabe and Mia’s mother leave no stone unturned to find their daughter but things seldom go as planned. When confronted with the truth, cracks appear in their relationship as a family, and things are not what they seem. Mary Kubica is a brilliant author whose books I always enjoy. You can also check out Every Last lie by the author which I equally loved.

15.) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo(Trilogy) by Steig Larsson, trans.Reg Keeland: My first tryst with thrillers was with TGWTDT. I was in high-school when I stumbled upon this literary goodness and devoured the series within a week. It’s your classic cat & mouse chase except it’s more gory, dark and twisted. My favourite bad-ass fictional character, Lisbath Salander together with journalist Mikael Bloomberg investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families. This book is an embodiment of what a thriller should be like.

I hope you like these recommendations and I’ll be back with some more! Meanwhile, do drop in your favourite thrillers. I’d love to have a look.

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The Rape Trial by Bidisha Ghosal: When do we say,’ Enough is enough?’

What happens when women take justice in their own hands, going after their abusers, harassers, rapists–doing to them what men have been doing to women since centuries? What happens when the onus of protecting women lies no longer in the hands of the law? Women have been the victim of gruesome rape, of constantly being stalked by serial molesters, of having their agency defined by the standards men believe to be right. It’s no surprise then that years of systematic abuse and conditioning women continue to tolerate becomes too much to take in. The likes of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, MJ Akbar, many journalists and celebrities who have been profiting off of the exploitation of women working with or under them has been brought to light. The question still remains: what measures have been taken since the Nirbhaya case and thousand other rape cases to make sure the accused got what they deserved? The answer lies in the fact that women, once again, have faced the brunt of being raped. They risked their lives outing their abusers at the cost of being ostracised.

When Rahul Satyabhagi belonging to one of the most affluent families in Badrid Bay was accused of raping Avni Rambha Ahuja, the members of the elite and friends of the Satyabhagis and Rambhas were divided. Rahul was vindicated at the trial and Avni moved to another country. This didn’t stop him from suing her and from the media from making him the flag-bearer of Men’s right activism. But a recent sting operation done on Rahul exposed him as guilty by his own admission. He not only bragged about the rape but joked about doing it again.

Rhea Arora Raj had been childhood friends with Rahul Satyabhagi and Avni Rambha. Their families were close-knit but it only lasted until Rhea’s parents filed for divorce. Rhea joined her dad’s business when she was still in school. Soon enough, she climbed the corporate ladder with her name on every achievement board. By the time she reached college, she was already handling majority of her dad’s work and launching projects of her own. That’s where she met her lifelong friends and confidantes; Hitaishi and Amruta.

The sting operation broke something inside the three friends; Rhea, Amruta & Hitaishi. They were appalled at Rahul’s audacity, of his lecherous mindset. They no longer wanted to be mute spectators to such a travesty. Here’s when they decide to do something to stop these rampant attacks on women. They took matters in their own hands & set things straight. Not really knowing where this would lead them, the trio set off a precedent in the city and all over the country. Suddenly several rapists were found mutilated and tortured. News broke out about a group of vigilantes who were out to attack men. It’s ironical how the society was now worried about rapists more than women being raped. Bidisha has handled the narrative with sensitivity making sure she drives her point across.

Things get even more interesting when the police, now desperate to catch someone, drag a young girl into the police station levering chargers of first degree murder on her. Urvi Nanda’s case becomes a sensation. Here I would like to mention how fantastically Bidisha wrote the court-room scene. From the journalists to the lawyers to the police, her characters seemed real and very believable. I raced through the pages because of how intense and captivating her arguments were.

The Rape Trial shows us what happens when women do to men what is being done to them since centuries. I don’t know what the moral stand or real solution to this problem is. The story is violent, gory and harsh but depicts the double standards our society seems to be reeling in. There were a lot of scenes that were uncomfortable, a lot of areas that are neither white or black but completely grey. But these are the times we live in. The author evoked feelings of anger, hurt, helplessness that countless women have felt and continue to feel. Their agencies being controlled or completely taken away at the whims of men. The power structure is so skewed, and if we’re taking a few steps forward, we’ll also going back a thousand times.

The book reads like a thriller with several twists and turns coupled with excellent writing that’ll keep you hooked. The Rape Trial by Bidisha Ghosal makes for a great read. I have been reading the book since the past couple of weeks and now that I have finished reading it, I already miss it. Such is the power of words.

You can buy the book here:

Notion Press: https://notionpress.com/read/the-rape-trial

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The Little Prince by Antoine de-Saint Exupery: An emotional rollercoaster of a book.

The Little Prince is a novella that was written by Antoine de Saint- Expert in 1943. It has since been translated into several languages & has made its mark as a classic. Although meant for children, TLP carries poignant themes of love, loss, loneliness, and human nature. I don’t know what I was expecting while reading this book but it had a profound impact on me.

A narrator, who is a pilot, crash lands on Sahara & only has 8 days of water supply left. Here’s when he meets a little boy, Nicknamed ‘little prince’ who belongs to a tiny planet called B-612. While the narrator is busy repairing his plane, the little boy recounts his life on his pint-sized planet, where he spends all his time cleaning minuscule volcanoes and removing unwanted seeds. 

The tone and narrative technique written from the perspective of the pilot add a sombre, measured pace which works for the fantastical and unrealistic elements the author was going for. The author derived inspiration from his own life when in 1939 his plane crash-landed at the Sahara desert. Due to severe dehydration, both Antoine and his co-navigator, began hallucinating and started seeing mirages. They were finally rescued by a group of nomadic Arab people. 

I’m not going lie, I was really emotional after reading TLP. Maybe it was the subtle theme of childhood nostalgia, of growing up, learning life’s nuances & unlearning them after a point. It’s a little book but there’s so much to unpack here. The beauty of reading is that you’re allowed your own interpretation. You’re allowed to acknowledge the book for what it makes you feel.

Read it because you’ll understand life so much better.

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Identity: Beyond Borders

The anti-narcotics team had arrived. We were about to go through another rigorous round of security check. Sheru, one of the sniffer dogs, was sun-bathing when he heard his name being called, after which, he jumped excitedly and proceeded towards us. If you’re a fully functional human being with a heart, the sight of a dog in uniform will melt you. We took out our cell phones but were soon rebuked for doing so. This was serious business and Sheru had work to do. Walking in and around our luggage, which were quite a few, Sheru moved on to other passengers. At this point, we were getting late. We had to cross the Wagah Border by afternoon and we hadn’t even boarded the bus that would take us there. To add to our woes, it had started raining. Having grown up in India, watching parades being held on Independence Day at the Wagah Border, always seemed mystical—something out of a movie. Except this was real life, and this wasn’t a drill or an extended joke. My siblings and I had imagined a lot of things we’d be able to witness at the border. It was our first time, it was going be a historic moment for us all. Naturally, we were thrilled. The whole idea of crossing the border by foot is, in my opinion, a little hilarious and maybe unreal. How can a single man-made line divide entire countries? How can the fate of so many people be decided, depending on which side of the line you were in? I guess, my questions were about to be answered.

At one point of time, we were in the no-man’s land— that little space before you step into another country, not belonging to either India or Pakistan. A single step forward would put an official tag of which country I was standing in. It didn’t mean anything, it didn’t deter where I was from, it didn’t take away my roots. Standing there under the biting Amritsar rain, waiting to cross the border, it didn’t feel too magical or heroic. Instead, I was trying to absorb, to understand the seriousness of the situation. I was blown away by the high-rise walls, the beautiful golden dome that you see, with ‘India’s Line of Defense’ written in bold right at the center. In between dragging our luggage and getting anxious about just everything in general, we forgot that our crossing the border coincided with the lowering of the flags’ ceremony, a daily military practice, at the Attari-Wagah border, carried by both India and Pakistan’s security forces ever since 1959. There were people from both sides of the line, who had come with their friends & family, to witness the parade. There were the national flags of both the countries, dancing in the rain, looking at its people, and what had become of it. Despite the terrible weather, the stands were filling up fast. You could see colorful umbrellas forming a canopy at opposite ends, a kind of shield, a form of defiance. Humans have unwavering resilience when they put their mind to something. It was time for us to finally walk our way into another country, passports ready. My grandmother was given a wheelchair, chaperoned by one of the coolies who helped her cross the border at lightning fast speed. 

 It’s a joke in the family now; of us parading in the middle as we dragged our luggage to the other end while the crowd sat at both sides watching us march helplessly. 

I couldn’t stop noticing a woman in her late 50s, who was alone, carrying a dozen bags filled with fresh produce, a few belongings that she would be needing and sheer determination on her face. Maybe she was a vendor, making a living selling fruits & vegetables. She painstakingly tried lifting her heavy bags onto the trolleys right after crossing the border. To avoid a crowd, the security was tightened. The woman was struggling to assemble her belongings and she asked my brother for help. We were busy collecting our luggage to be put in trolleys so that we could proceed towards immigration. We looked back to see the woman give her blessings to my brother for his help, smiling, her eyes moist—forming wrinkles that made her look older. She waved at us and went her way. Did she belong to India or Pakistan? It didn’t matter, not at that moment. There were so many like us, wanting to see their relatives, with longing in their eyes & joy at seeing their loved ones after an unsparing journey. 

This wasn’t going to be the first and last time I was to experience human empathy in all its glory. Belonging to a family who suffered the aftermath of Partition, I know well enough, the limitless ways in which people have extended their support throughout. It’s times like these when humans surpass themselves, with only kindness and empathy as their deus ex machina

We may be divided, we may have forgotten true nationalism, but the kindness of our hearts cannot be bought, it cannot be traded or diminished. We may lose everything one day but empathy? It’s embedded in stone and it’s here to stay. 

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Top Ten Favourite Books of 2019

To squeeze together everything about 2019 in a post is a herculean task. For I can never write in words how much books have changed me inside out, how every story has molded how I view the world and how every character taught me empathy, resilience and love.

I’m sitting in front of my bookshelf that’s messy and unstructured, quite like life itself. Some books are placed perfectly in their place,  others have toppled and reshaped themselves, trying to fit in, while some others are holding on to dear life. To squeeze together everything about 2019 in a post is a herculean task. For I can never write in words how much books have changed me inside out, how every story has molded how I view the world and how every character taught me empathy, resilience and love. I quit my job earlier this year to focus on working in the publishing industry. After interning for 3 months at BEE Books , I started working as an Editor which has been a lifelong dream. It was unnerving quitting a full time job to pursue a career in publishing knowing there aren’t many options where I live. I also travelled a lot this year, and spent quality time with family & friends. .
I didn’t write much at all considering it was supposed to be top priority. But hey, it’s never too late to start working on what you want.

In terms of reading, it has been quite a learning experience. I’ve read non-fiction & fiction, each widely contrasting to one another. I’ve had bouts of reading slumps, life getting in between everything, losing motivation et cetera. Through it all, I managed to read 42 books which I’m content with. The quantity doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, but if you want to read as many books as you can in a lifetime, such measures of counting and setting up reading challenges must be employed.

Here are the books I loved and recommended to everyone this year(in no particular order of publication):

  • Educated by Tara Westover: If there’s one book you can read this year, let it be this one.
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
  • My Sister,The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  • The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas
  • Small Days & Nights by Tishani Doshi
  • Eating Wasps by Anita Nair
  • A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Here’s hoping 2020 to be a blessed reading year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!

Of losses; big & small

Experiencing loss, one memory at a time.

I was in school when I first felt loss. I couldn’t find my favorite pencil that had a scented eraser at the back. Before leaving the classroom, I had kept it on my desk. After lunch break was over, I went back to my desk only to find it empty. I was hysterical. I cried, and cried. I asked my friends, who shrugged and then started a search for the missing pencil. We looked everywhere; under the desk, inside the dustbin, I also raided everyone’s pencil box. It had disappeared. This wasn’t the first time I had lost something in class, and this wasn’t the first time I struggled dealing with the loss of something I cherished. As a child, getting attached to inanimate objects was easy. Loss, as a concept, seemed confusing to me, and somehow I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. My teacher complained to my brother one day, annoyed at how sensitive I was. She said, ‘Your sister starts crying every time she loses something,’. I was baffled at my teachers’ lack of understanding. Crying was the only way I could explain what it felt. How else was I to make her believe how much it meant to me? For a seven-year old, it seemed too real, too personal. Sure, it was something I could replace but it was loss nonetheless. As I grew up, the losses took the shape of a lost tooth, of a lost book, of a lost friend, of a lost dream. One day, it was a pet rabbit that didn’t survive, on another occasion, it was a plant I had forgot to water. Each time I lost something, it hurt less but I felt like I had changed. The losses represented something I no longer had, but whose absence felt ephemeral. The losses didn’t stop. They only kept changing shape, presenting itself in unique ways, intensifying in magnitude. The response to these losses also changed.  Grief, somehow, found an outlet. It channeled its way every time I mourned the death of a fictional character, every time I would hear about a child learning to hear for the first time, every time I would cry during movies & every time a person I looked upto passed away. It would mold itself like water; fitting, squeezing, expanding & contracting wherever there was enough space. It ebbed & it flowed. But it kept coming. 

Nobody grows up learning how to mourn. No one teaches you how to weep. Grief is universal. It can be found in every household, in every corner. The death of a loved one, the death of your old self, the collective loss of our identities. Loss makes you confront your worst fears, it brings out everything you hate in front of you, and asks that you dine with it. Your worst fears, your worst self, is suddenly out in the open, staring at you, almost smiling. But somehow, you deal with it. You look grief in the eye, and shake hands. You discuss what must be done. You’ve felt loss before & you’ll feel loss again. You’ll grieve over the things you could have done, the dreams you can no longer dream, the loved ones you can never bring back. But then one day, you feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and you learn to walk freely, you learn to dream big dreams. 

Loss is inescapable—it’s a fair-weather friend that keeps coming in and out of our lives. We just learn to accept it. 

The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas: A story of love, art & loss in the midst of political turmoil.

Art connects. Art brings you back from the depths of the earth, shakes you and makes you step outside of your little world, and create something you didn’t think you were capable of. The beauty & power of art is infinite, it’s capacity limitless. It transforms and recreates and gives birth to revolution, to freedom, the ability to defy. Art is all encompassing. 

The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas takes us through Pakistan’s tumultuous political scenario between 1969-1979 where power and state sanctioned brutality displaced, killed and tortured thousands of people. While the prolonged civil war and formation of Bangladesh as an independent country took shape, we see the union of two separate individuals belonging to wealthy Karachi family unfold, and how the societal demands and expectations are loaded on Tahira, who ultimately surrenders but finds solace in art; her precious paintings.

From the start, you can feel the bitterness, the uncalled criticism meted out to Tahira by her husband and in-laws. Tahira, a young, educated girl withers away under constant jarbs and marital expectations, realizing with growing contempt that her life has been snatched away, reduced to dust. The only solace given to her by her in-laws was the freedom to paint only because it would add to their status obsessed image. It was infuriating to see Tahira undergo so much trauma, injustice and disrespect at the hands of her in-laws. 

The beauty of this book lies in the creation of other characters who I was equally fond of. We have Tahira’s childhood friend, Andaleep, who encourages her to take up painting with renewed gusto. Always looking after his sister, Waseem, defines masculinity in a new light. He considers himself a socialist distressed by the unfortunate path his country was heading towards. Both Waseem and Andaleep grappled and disappointed by Tahira’s submissiveness distance themselves for fear of losing her completely. 

It’s commendable how Sadia Abbas has encapsulated the internal and external activities of Pakistan and its people, delving into the political and social constraints, of personal and private lives being uprooted, and has brilliantly captured the intimate and most vulnerable of human emotions. 

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

In a remote Norwegian island, a sea-storm has wiped out 40 fishermen. As Maren watches the sea swallow all the men including her brother and father, the women are left to fend for themselves. As their days pass in a lull, haunted by the ghosts of those drowned in the reckless storm, the women learn to carve a life for themselves until three years later a sinister figure arrives at Vardo, uprooting their very existence. Absalom Cornet has arrived from Scotland, where he has built a kind of a reputation of burning witches. He is accompanied by his wife, Ursa, who is young as much as naïve, unware of the man she has married, and clueless about life in Vardo. 

Soon enough, Absalom demands for strict adherence to his rules. He believes Vardo to be possessed by witches, where women who roam freely, and run entire houses on their own, are untouched by god. Ursa is terrified of her husband’s authority and utterly lonely till she finds solace in Maren. Absalom’s growing power and blind belief by some women of Vardo lead to a devastating result. 

The Mercies is a feminist story of the threat women pose even when they’re just existing in their own skin, of how unchecked power and systemic oppression has led to abuse and ostracization of one gender. It’s a reflection of how rumours  and hearsay can have catastrophic results. Kiran’s writing is hauntingly beautiful; it’s visually appealing in a sense that I could smell the sea breeze, feel the force of the waves as they crash and submerge in a rhythm, and the way the women powered through despite gut-wrenching loss.