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. 

The Great Smog of India by Siddharth Singh: A detailed account of the rising Air Pollution in India, its causes and what it entails for us.

Understanding the national crisis that is Air pollution and learning how to combat it.

Siddharth Singh in the first chapter of his book gives us a chilling statistic, “In sheer magnitude, air pollution kills over a million Indians every year- albeit silently. More residents of Delhi are killed, silently, every week than have been killed in terrorist incidents in the past decade. More Indians are killed every week by air pollution than have been killed in all India-Pakistan wars put together since Independence. Again, silently.” The book has come at a time when the city grapples with poor air quality, failing health conditions, and our refusal to change our lifestyle.

With air pollution rising with increased force every passing minute, the author has attempted to give us a clear account of the cause behind India’s decreasing air quality, the factors contributing to it and how human health is affected while exploring what pollution stands for and it’s origination. The author goes on to articulate and compare how other countries tackled their air pollution crisis; whether it was a success or not, and further delves into the administrative issues that have hindered policies, and action.

We’ve all witnessed the air quality in Delhi deteriorating, adding to major health risks, accidents, and overall discomfort to the citizens. It’s like the city is swallowed whole by a layer of black smoke. Singh says, “Air Pollution is a structural issue in the region, one that spans several states and countries. Particularly in the winters, a haze encompasses the entire northern Indian region.” The situation is far worse than what meets the eye but the people are so used to it, and no longer take it seriously. During Diwali, despite severe warnings, people stepped out wearing masks to burn crackers. It’s alarming how we’re ready to ignore the health risks and continue being in denial.

Singh talks about the impact economic disparity has on healthcare. Those belonging to affluent and upper-middle-class families can afford private healthcare, while those who can’t, have to deal with government hospitals that are ill-equipped, and understaffed and have little to no experience in treating patients. The dilapidated condition of the hospitals is not a myth. When working on a series, Vidya Krishnan, the health and science editor at The Hindu newspaper had to visit a government-run-hospital in Old Delhi. What she saw was alarming and terrifying. Not only did she spot cats roaming about in it, but they were also collecting placenta and biomedical waste to eat. If you think the horror ends there, you’re wrong. The urinal was placed inside the maternity ward. When she expressed her concerns to a doctor, she was dismissed and asked to mind her own business.  The poor continue to suffer, and with India’s rising air pollution, the future looks bleak.

It comes as no surprise that children are facing the brunt of air pollution the hardest. There several ongoing studies both in India and other countries. One such study revealed negative impacts on language and mathematics skills measured in fourth-grade children due to particulate pollution. Naturally, the productivity of the working force is affected, which in turn affects the economy.

The book ends with the author giving us a summarized version of The Great Smog of India, the factors leading up to it, and the solutions to combat the issue. It is commendable how much research has gone into the making of this book; it’s extensive and can be understood easily.

All in all, this book is a concise guide on understanding and learning about the big monster, air pollution, that has been looming and seems to only grow powerful.


Author: Siddharth Sing

Publisher: Penguin India

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 4.5/5

Format: Hardback

Pages: 199

Blurb:

Air pollution kills over a million Indians every year, albeit silently. Families are thrown into a spiralling cycle of hospital visits, critically poor health and financial trouble impacting their productivity and ability to participate in the economy. Children born in regions of high air pollution are shown to have irreversibly reduced lung function and cognitive abilities that affects their incomes for years to come. They all suffer, silently.
The issue is exacerbated every winter, when the Great Smog of India descends and envelops much of northern India. In this period, the health impact from mere breathing is akin to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The crisis is so grave that it warrants emergency health advisories forbidding people from stepping out. And yet, for most of us, life is business as usual.
It isn’t that the scientific community and policymakers don’t know what causes air pollution, or what it will take to tackle the problem. It is that the problem is social and political as much as it is technological, and human problems are often harder to overcome than scientific ones. Each sector of the economy that needs reform has its underlying political, economic and social dynamics that need to be addressed to make a credible impact on emissions.
With clarity and compelling arguments, and with a dash of irony, Siddharth Singh demystifies the issue: where we are, how we got here, and what we can do now. He discusses not only developments in sectors like transport, industry and energy production that silently contribute to air pollution, but also the ‘agricultural shock’ to air quality triggered by crop burning in northern India every winter. He places the air pollution crisis in the context of India’s meteorological conditions and also climate change. Above all, and most alarmingly, he makes clear what the repercussions will be if we remain apathetic.

Agnyatha by Krishnamurthy Hanuru: The memoir of Tipu’s Unknown Commander

A memoir of Tipu’s Unknown Commander.

Translated from Kanada by L.S.Shankar Swamy, and written by Krishnamurthy Hanuru, this novel traces the life of a commander under Tipu Sultan’s reign.  This book also won the prestigious Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award.

The unknown commander was very close to the Sultan, and was responsible for maintaining law and order in the kingdom. The novel starts off with Tipu Sultan offering his commander to bring real tigers to be kept in the palace. Afraid of letting him down, the soldier sets off with his troop into the interiors of the forest and spends days on the lookout for one. Finally, the commander emerged victorious and took back a ferocious tiger, caged, and hungry. This is just one of the many instances where the commander showed utmost courage. However, the commander’s life was a series of brutal killings, merciless acts carried on the innocent villagers, and animal-like behaviour with the women. He would loot the poor, treat the women with scorn, and show no remorse. It was when the commander was faced with the same fate, he realized his deeds.

In politics, trust or being trustworthy is similar to a cat lovingly licking its newly born young one to death.

We also get to read about the commander’s family life, his relationship with his father that was always volatile, and how he didn’t care about his wife or having a family.  His rash nature, fueled by the desire to win and please his kind overruled any emotion for him.

The novel has a blend of history, folklore, and myth giving the readers wonderful insights about India’s rich heritage.  The cover illustration has been beautifully described inside the book by the author with each and every detail mentioned with precision.

However, despite the rich context, I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the book. That’s the downside of translated books. It loses its essence. There were a few chapters that seemed confusing.

If you’re into historical fiction and keen on learning about India’s folklore, myths, and traditions during Tipu Sultan’s time, this would be a good pick.


Author: Krishnamurthy Hanuru

Publisher: Bee.books

Genre: Historical fiction

Pages: 177

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3/5

Source: Review copy

Blurb: 

“There is nothing like this novel in Kannada literature. Starting as a chronicle of a soldier’s life in the times of Tipu Sultan, the narrative moves with astonishing vitality across time and space. Its supple structure, its shifting locations and perspectives, the freedom with which the narrative roams over different and seemingly irreconcilable genres—such as myth, history and folklore—create a world which is at once mesmerizing, baffling and yet deeply ‘real’. Hanuru’s scholarship and imagination enable him to place each episode in a precise time and place. Yet these worlds, which seem so apart and autonomous, morph into each other and open up a vast canvas, rich and vibrant, leavened by the writer’s sensitivity to human foibles.

 

Tides Don’t Cross by Simar Malhotra

The story is as much about lost love as it is about redemption, hope, and the increasing political tensions arising due to Islamophobia and the extremist nature of the society at large

Set in America and India, Tides Don’t Cross is a story about Mrinalini, Rukmani and Ayaan, who cross paths, and have their lives altered by the course of their interaction. The story is as much about lost love as it is about redemption, hope, and the increasing political tensions arising due to Islamophobia and the extremist nature of the society at large. Simar, at the age of just 21, has written with honesty, and experience, since she is studying in America, and has observed the culture over there closely. I was really in awe of her writing style, her narration, and the way she displayed the reality of the changing mindsets, and those that are yet to be changed.

The two sisters, Mrinalini and Rukmani are each other’s opposites. Mrinalini is submissive. She gives in to her mother’s bullying, often complying to her demands, however unnecessary. So when her mother, Nirmala, forces her to marry a guy who she deems is perfect, Mrinalini has no choice. But what looks perfect, never really is. Her marriage is hollow. She feels suffocated, and is constantly trying to please her husband and in-laws. Rukmani is fiesty, confident and speaks her mind. She refuses to give in to her mother’s patriarchal notions, and does not conform. When she meets Ayaan in Paris, they hit it off immediately. Ayaan is the swimmer, the too-good-to-be-true boy who you can’t help but admire. He’s everything you’d a expect a man to be. But as they say, all good things come to end, and so does their romance. Will they be able to wade off the dark clouds looming over their destinies or will they succumb to the darkness?

I’m not really a fan of romance novels, and somehow felt something missing in the story. Mind you, the plot is well developed but it didn’t resonate with me. Also, Rukmani’s character was highly impulsive, and her reckless nature seemed to ruin things for her. Ayaan seemed way too fictional at one point.

If you’re just starting out and would like a light easy read, Tides Don’t Cross would be a good choice.


Author: Simar Malhotra

Publisher: Rupa Publication

Rating: 3.2/5

Pages: 250

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

Sparks fly immediately when Rukmani—fierce and assertive in the best and worst possible ways—meets the gentle Ayaan in the magical city Paris. Meanwhile, back in India, her reticent sister, Mrinalini struggles to cope with the void of a loveless marriage and an early pregnancy.

Tides Don’t Cross follows these extremely interesting characters as their lives cross in surprising ways. Mrinalini, Ayaan and Rukmani wade through choppy tides, unaware of their common destiny. Deeply touching, this is an unforgettable story of thwarted desires, of love and its loss, of losing and finding oneself, and of falling and learning to rise.

 

Daddykins by Kalpana Mohan: A bitter-sweet memoir that will make you laugh and cry.

Daddykins is an intimate and deeply relatable account of our relationships with our parents whatever our age, and the shared experiences of love and grief that unite us all.

While driving back in the car after the party, he turned to my sister to ask her the one question that seemed to giving him heartburn. “Was this a birthday or a sendoff?”

Returning back after celebrating his ninetieth birthday, the one thought that kept lingering in the mind of Daddykins, was that of mortality, and how much more time did he have? In this memoir that’s written with utmost affection, love and respect for a man the author grew up loving, her father, we see life through his eyes, and how with changing times, Daddykins, remained loyal to his routines, his family, and everything that was dear to him.

Kalpana Mohan, a journalist in California, flies down to take-care of her father whose health keeps deteriorating, She describes her father’s life, piecing together every little detail with precision, and caution coupled with laughter and wit. She traces her father’s life of when he was growing up in a country that went through partition, his marriage at an early age, and fighting poverty to landing his first job. Often dealing with the crankiness that the illness brought him to seeing him wither down and accept defeat when his body could no longer cope, Kalpana, captured the journey of a man who never lost sight of his bold nature, and smiled even at his lowest, never letting his physical inability hinder his sharp mind.

It was delightful and heartwarming to read about the relationship between a father and a daughter. The instances narrated made me tear up in parts, often making me think about my father’s idiosyncrasies, and how universal the bond is. No matter how old you are, you’ll always remain your daddy’s little girl.

The staff at the theatre walked up to Daddykins and asked after his health. He introduced me to them. “My little girl,” he said. Fifty-one years old, with hair dyed black to retain her youth and on supplements to stave off the onset of osteoporosis and peripheral neuropathy, his ‘little’ girl held Daddykins by the elbow and led him to their seats in the first row.

The camaraderie between Daddykins and Vinayagam, the witty remarks laced with admiration and respect for each other together with the author’s stark observation about the mundane, made the book even more special. Families come together during difficult times, and it is families who help us see the shore when the tides are high. Through this memoir, Kalpana, weaved a beautiful relationship between daughters, and their fathers, and how, when all is said and done, you need your parents to help you see the light.

I never imagined that my father would really die. Death had been a stunt practised in our home. My father had ‘pretend-died’ and come back to life many times before. Sometimes when my mother or his daughters castigated him for something, Daddykins’ face would fall. “I’ll just go away,” he would say, “and then you’ll see how life will be.” Then he would flump down on the sofa or bed. In a display of cinematic bravado, Daddykins would let his arms go limp. His head would roll to his side, his eyes would shut and the tongue would leak out of his mouth. But he always got up and walked back into our lives. That night in June, however, while my sister and I paced outside his room, anxious about the readings on his oxygen monitor, Daddykins exhaled, never to inhale again.


Author: Kalpana Mohan

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 192

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

When journalist Kalpana Mohan’s elderly father falls ill in Chennai, she is on the next flight over from California and the home she has shared with her husband for three decades. Caring for her sometimes cranky, sometimes playful, and always adored father at his home in Chennai, Mohan sets out to piece together an account of her father’s life, from his poverty-stricken childhood in a village in south India, to his arranged marriage, to his first job in the city, all the while coming to terms with his inevitable passing.

 

Mohan’s tender, moving, and sometimes hilarious memoir is an account of a changing India captured in her father’s life, from the sheer feat of surviving poverty in I920s India of his birth, to witnessing key moments in the nation’s history and changing alongside them. Above all, Daddykins is an intimate and deeply relatable account of our relationships with our parents whatever our age, and the shared experiences of love and grief that unite us all.

 

Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar: Summer of Lahore, Partying, and insight into Pakistan’s richest.

Lahore is burning. General elections are right around the corner. The summer city rages with drug-fuelled parties of the oblivious, the rich and the famous, while campaign posters and rally cries dominates the airwaves.

When Nida loses her brother in an army helicopter crash, her life spirals in every direction, making her sink deeper into the dark-hole she’s trying to escape. A student of Economics at Lahore College, she desperately tries to piece together her life, and as her family tries to recover from the tragedy, Nida struggles to find a place she could finally be at peace. Belonging to a middle class family, and searching for a different kind of ‘high’ she finds herself being drawn to the life of the elite. Slowly, her dull-boring middle class life sees a new light where partying, drinking, smoking in AC bathrooms, and often passing out till the next morning seem to be the order of the day.

She starts hanging out with Omer, son of Iftikhar Ali, the right-hand man of the current PM of Pakistan, Salim Chaudhary. Omer with his sense of entitlement, power, and inability to form stable relationships is highly impressed by Nida, and her joint rolling skills, and immediately latches onto her, happy to have a new project he could work on till he gets bored. He introduces Nida to the his friends, his posh life, and of course to all kinds of nasha.

RJ Bugsy, our second protagonist, through which we see Lahore in a new light, develops feelings for Nida but keeps it to himself. He is the son of a retired Army officer, but does not conform to the standards set upon him by his father. He hosts one of the nation’s top radio shows, and is obsessed with Freddie Mercury. However, his association with a long lost friend, Moby, puts him in a compromising situation. What seemed like a small favour ultimately leads him to the dark alleys of Pakistani politics.

Nadia’s descriptions and her unconventional and rather bold writing style is truly refreshing and unheard of. Her satire into the lives of the rich, the middle class, and general day-to day issues are remarkable. Set in the time when general elections in Pakistan are in full force, and the spirits are high, the author, creates her own little world through Nida and Bugsy, trying to fit into the society, often failing.

Despite the writing, there was something very unsettling about our main protagonist, Nida. She was being dragged from one place to the other by her pompous bf Omer, who treated her no less than a toy he’d discard. Nida tried very hard to ‘not be like other girls’ but it was pretty cliche, and boring.

However, as the story progressed, I could feel something missing in terms of plot development. There was a moment of nothingness, and then BAM. The ending had me shook. I didn’t anticipate such a dramatic climax. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for it, and I still don’t think I am over it. But looking at it closely, I realize why it was important. I wish there was more to the story; it somehow seemed too rushed and incomplete.

All in all, Goodbye Freddie Mercury is energetic, refreshing and a bold account of fiction that’s going to make you laugh, and also revel at the reality of it all.


Author: Nadia Akbar

Publisher: Penguin India

Rating: 3.8/5

Pages: 340

Format: Paperback

 

Blurb: