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

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

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

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.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: A novel about art, beauty and dark side of humanity.

Oscar Wilde in his widely read and often critiqued book explores themes of aestheticism, vanity, of inherently flawed individuals, and hedonism.

A book that explores art, beauty, and the moral grounds one is faced with, of corruption and its consequences, the dark side of humanity, and how one can become maniacal in their idiosyncrasies, and temperament. Oscar Wilde in his widely read and often critiqued book explores themes of aestheticism, vanity, of inherently flawed individuals, and hedonism.

It’s difficult to review a book of this nature. A lot has been discussed and written about it already, and rightly so. We have Basil Hallward, who paints a beautiful portrait of Dorian, and is enamored by his beauty, and gentle nature. Dorian Gray, a charming lad, with a sheltered life, tumbles into the company of Lord Henry, and here’s where his perfectly happy, non-problematic life turns into a devil’s playschool. He continues to live a shallow life, reveling in richness and lavish dinners, tainted by the superficiality of the world, and getting deeper into the pits of self-obsession. His narcissistic personality overpowers his ability to form normal relationships. Dorian ceases to age while something cruel and bizarre starts happening to the painting.

Oscar has written a harrowing tale of a man who never ages. It’s sinister at best, mocking in its approach to how beauty surpasses moral intellect and art. The book also harbors themes of eternal youth which reminds me of Doctor Faustus. I think it also partially touches upon homosexuality, which is a brave attempt, considering the time it was written in.  It’s a tragic commentary on the human soul, and how it’s easy to manipulate individuals, reflecting on the power art holds and how it’s so misinterpreted.

I had a perfect picture with my little brother (who is not-so-little anymore) but I realized I need to stop worrying about perfect pictures and be more candid. This is me making him pose with the book. He was cranky the entire time.

Prelude To A Riot by Annie Zaidi: The novel captures the beginning of the end of a divided India.

Mass polarization and hear-say instead of careful deliberation is the tone of today’s India. Mirroring the dysfunctional, unreliable & highly fractured world, Prelude To A Riot takes us through the lens of the past, the series of events that followed it, ultimately leading to our downfall.

Annie Zaidi’s novel captures the anxiety, fear, injustice and othering of certain sections of society in this slim book of merely 192 pages. Situated somewhere in South-India with banana and pepper plantations, two families—one Hindu & Muslim who are estate-owners, reside. The seeds of communal tensions have been sowed, now with intolerance and refusal to consider humanity as a foundation, with a dash of bigotry and ideological differences, this plant of hatred and indifference takes shape. Prelude to A Riot, written through soliloquies of characters, shows the trailer, before the actual movie. Riots are not only limited to burning of vehicles, destroying anyone or anything that comes in between—but years and years of conditioning, years of being made to feel inferior, through an attack on one’s faith, an assault on one’s identity. Discussing a number of socio-political issues with utmost sincerity, Annie brings to light several privileges that come at a high cost and the push and pull between ‘them’ and ‘us’ 

The current political scenario has collectively disappointed us as citizens, targeting and casting one religion as the ‘other’. In one of the instances in the book, Appa, an estate owner resents Muslim and refers to them as ‘outsiders’ despite them living in the state for several decades. This hit home. I had to stop reading because for the first time I realized this wasn’t only fictional, that this is the reality we’re living in. I can’t describe the feeling of helplessness that took its course right after. Mass polarization and hear-say instead of careful deliberation is the tone of today’s India. Mirroring the dysfunctional, unreliable & highly fractured world, Prelude To A Riot takes us through the lens of the past, the series of events that followed it, ultimately leading to our downfall. 

Please read this book.