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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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. 

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.