Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My first book of collected short stories

Sindh – Stories from a vanished homeland by Saaz Aggarwal

First things first! If you have Saaz Aggarwal’s second book, Sindh – Stories from a vanished homeland, in hand, quickly turn to page 68 and begin your study of Sindh, geographically and politically.

Sitting on the banks of the Sindu (Indus) river, the land called Sindh was rich with art, culture, poetry and trade. For generations, even from Chandragupta’s time or just before Greeks frequented India passing through these lands. Writes Saaz Aggarwal, ‘The Sindh region was home to advanced urban Indus Valley settlements, most famously Mooan jo daro…’Having passed from the Maurya Empire to Darius I, to Persia, to finally Arabs, the land had seen many changes and adopted to it all. So there is was a land with people who belonged to the world, for how is it possible not to imbibe the cultures, arts, artifacts of kingdoms and people who come into your land and make it their home?
Now you can sit back and begin to google search the sites I have listed below. The maps will take you on a very pleasant sight-seeing tour but don’t lose your way, in the lost land. Return as quickly to read the stories of so many men and women who braved the India/Pakistan divide to make India their home. It is easier said than done, because, if you see what they left behind and where they had to start their life from, you wonder, where their steely strength comes from.

Wikipedia says: Hyderabad, around which most of the stories are based, is the 2nd largest city in the Sindh province of Pakistan. It is the 6th largest city in the country. The city was founded in 1768 by Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro upon the ruins of a Mauryan fishing village along the bank of the Indus known as Neroon Kot. Chandragupta Maurya’s Empire spread from east to west covering substantial land across the north western region (see map below)
Given this very rich, prosperous background, from as far back as 3rd century BCE – and maybe earlier - all was lost as India became independent.  Accustomed to a life of opulence, abundance, high education and rich trade, when partition happened, they had to leave everything behind, to seek shelter in India, as refugees. Rich and poor alike, ran from Pakistan occupied Sindh, by ship and train to arrive in India, many times, even stripped of their last belonging on their bodies, women and children raped. Not only that, the Indian government overwhelmed with the aftermath of partition did little to see to their welfare. From rich and abundant kitchens, many had to bear the extremely pathetic state of refugee camps to survive with their families. Yet, the stoic community quickly got into the act of rehabilitating themselves and starting out all over again, as petty business men. Thankfully being a business community mainly with many scholars too among them, they had scattered all over the world, in Asia, Europe, Africa and America, Japan, China and Indonesia,   much before the exodus took place. Friends and relations did whatever they could to help the families, but a major chunk came to India, spreading themselves in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and trickling onto other states as well, to quickly make their life again. In the absence of any money, they had to use their mind and muscle to generate livelihood for themselves and their families.

They never looked back as they busied themselves with their new life.

Saaz Aggarwal has mixed her best in this book: On the one hand, it is a carefully researched historical novel and on the other it is a novel of real life stories from many individuals and families who have lived to tell their stories.  Mixed with a generous helping of Sindhi recipes, the book is written in such a manner, that it is possible to pick and chose what you want to read. If you are a history lover, then read the historical data presented, but if you are one who yawns at the very word called history, just skip those pages and devour the real life stories told by different people from a wide range of professions and homes. And of course the best part is hidden in the kitchen – Saee bhaji, Sindhi papad, dhodho, Sindhi kadhi and all those lovely delights, your mouth will water, as you read!

Although the book is about Sindhi Hindus, I was glad, not to have come across the word brahman till I came to page 270. But there, those chaps make their presence felt to perform rituals etc. In a community such as the Sindhis, where the brahmins have no other importance, I would have been delighted if the Sindhi brahmin performed a dervish, instead!

The book is heavy in weight and thought but Saaz Aggarwal’s gift for your grandparents couldn’t have been anything else, for they too had left everything behind in Sindh to start life from scratch, in Mumbai.

Sindh - Stories from a vanished homeland, deserves a place in every home, which has known pains, struggle and survival after partition. It must rub shoulders and spine with other books written about Sindh, in libraries, schools and colleges, where we preserve partition stories written from memory of those who are alive to write or speak of it.

And last but not the least, we need to rise and give a standing ovation to a “smart, courageous and emancipated people” – (Pg 227, Putli’s story) who have made India their home.

Saaz Aggarwal is a Journalist, writer, poet and painter. 

: Black-And-White-Fountain, 2, Flemington Terrace, Clover Village, Wonowari, Pune 411 040
Author: Saag Aggarwal
Price: Rs 400
Buy copies online: www.blackandwhitefountain.com
Feedback and inquiries: blackandwhitefountain@gmail.com

Maps and must reads:

Sindhi Passage to India map
: http://maps.google.co.in/maps?hl=en&tab=wl

Recent findings prove that Indian merchants from Tamil region have been travelling to Arab nations, even as far back as 1 CE : http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/potsherd-with-tamilbrahmi-script-found-in-oman/article4038866.ece

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another man's wife by Manjul Bajaj

“ It was an old, old tribal custom and only hearsay now. If a girl spat on a boy’s face it meant she had marked him out as hers.” p 199, Another man’s wife.

We however are not talking about that, but let’s face it, if you ever henceforth pick a book by the author Manjul Bajaj, be sure you are going to tread on grounds, that make for some absolutely wonderful stories, from the very heart of rural and urban India, which not only tell a story well. In this sense, Manjul Bajaj is marked..

In her second innings, Another man’s wife, a collection of 9 stories, Bajaj, takes the reader through a series of issues deeply rooted in our Indian society, and makes a delightful combination with the hot and hungry inner climate of her protagonists. Call it the need to explore or actions following needs of other kind, all the stories, twist and turn, and surprise the reader with a plot that is well thought out and crafted with the reader in mind.

What is the price of displacement? Why must we leave our home and hearth in the villages, to earn our living in cities, what is the cost of this displacement? What are the boundaries of love or sexual communion, what are the consequences of actions, does love last or must it be fueled by fantasy to live on, or does raw intimacy revive distanced relationships, is there a right thing to do, or all actions have their own cycle to complete, is there a continuation of life which once blown out, returns again giving even a murderer a chance for redemption? The author grapples with you by her side, with all this, through a journey of words, stories that make you sit up and think and discuss, long after you have pun the book, down.

There is no shame, no need to tame language and make it polite. The raw rugged rage of thoughts and words come straight from the belly, with no lace, no veil to cover. .

All the stories have strong protagonists, whether male or female, and all cut out a story, you least expected they would when you began to read it first. The twists and turns, the surprises and the large heartedness, all come together, so beautifully, that at the end, although as a reader one might have had a list of ifs and buts coming up, occasionally and punctuating the flow of thought, at the end, one feels that all is right in love and war. Besides, even in the worst case of being wronged, there is an inclusive end and characters are not left out there in the dark, to make sense of themselves.

The editorial work is fantastic and in the title story, the play of emotions, basic instinct, the war of bodies and of minds is a masterpiece to die for, the perfect dance of writer and editor - so exquisite the beat of the drums and the blow of the conches, one might have been a spectator of the very kurukshetra itself, only it is happening in the bedroom and your fire too is rising blow by blow, as this animal display of an instinct called sex moves, caresses, urges, pleads, attacks your senses too, with words that are noisy and restless to penetrate your body and your mind. Well done, Manjul Bajaj.

In this book, there are no lose ends and no question marks left. Bajaj has tied up the stories beautifully and in all of them, she has found her solution, bold, benevolent, without borders or boundaries. So if in her first book, Come before evening falls, she did sit on the fence at times, in this one, she has resolved her differences and cast pearls of wisdom strewn all across the book, like little nuggets, you’d love to keep forever.

I, however, will keep the best pearl of wisdom held close to my heart, a story I would like to re-read again, that one story, I truly call the ‘Meet the author, story,” – Marrying Nusrat.

: Manjul Bajaj
Edited by Nandita Aggarwal
Publisher: Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt Ltd
4th/5th Floors, Corporate Centre
Plot no 94, Sector 44, Gurgaon, India
Price: Rs 350
Buy: In bookshops across India, Amazon.com  &  Flipkart

Friday, October 12, 2012

Charms is the spirit of freedom, Charms is the way you are!

In earl 1980s Mohammad Khan, re-branded Charminar cigarettes, in a fresh new pack, with a red band. The design of the packet was faded blue jeans as against its old one, with the Charminar at the center of the yellow packet. What’s more he gave it a Headline that struck and stuck to everyone’s heart – Charms is the spirit of freedom, Charms is the way you are. The old name, Charminar, was replaced by one that rang a bell in every heart.

The youth in India went crazy. Suddenly, the Charminar cigarette which even sold at .50 paise a packet of cigarettes became a rave. You smoked, I smoked and we all smoked Charms, because it addressed what we felt deeply – the spirit of freedom, to be who we are. Even those who aspired for that state broke out of the shackles of age old conservatism and had a taste of freedom, albeit it was only a cigarette – Charms.

Wazir Sultan Tobacco Company, had never found a better campaign for their product. Nor ever known what it was like to lose the recall of their company name, for their own product, Charms!
Mohammad Khan had re-written the history of the famous Charminar at Hyderabad. The Nizam’s palace became a Museum, and Charminar became Charms.
But, just for the sake of old times, before Charms became the word on every lip in India, here’s Hyderabad most recently visited:

And just in case you are a fan - Interview with Mohammad Khan: