Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review: Nargisa's Adventures by Manjul Bajaj

The sequel to Manjul Bajaj’s children’s book series, Elbie’s Quest, is a delightful book, called Nargisa’s Adventures.

Nargisa, the Golden Heart Giving Flower, with red and blue petals, which changed hues, graced since times immemorial, Rangeeli Duniya, showering it with honey and gifts, patron of good times.  When her petals changed hues, very slowly, the worker bees made honey and when they changed to red, it was time to give honey away as gifts. But of late, the colours changed so fast that the worker bees in the factory are exhausted and Queen Bee is very annoyed with Nargisa, for causing the worker bees to work too hard and almost die of exhaustion. This gave Nargisa, the mother of headaches at nights, crowded by Dream Boats and Night Mares. She confides her problem to Titli, her Chief Gusher, who very prudently advices her to take a break. And guess where they are both are headed to? None other than, Elbie’s Soul CafĂ©, where, Elbie, the Big Little Tree brews and serves, vials of “Pick Me Up”, “Slow Me Down, “A Dash of Hope”, “A Stirring of Sympathy” .

Nargisa is refreshed and confides her problem to Elbie’s companion, the very smart wolf, Aluf, who then becomes instrumental to finding out where the problem really lies – why is Nargisa’s Golden Isle threatened to near extinction.

Packed with riddles, wild flight of imagination, lots of adventure, sci-fi too, the book is a sheer delight for the reader, I would think between age 12 – 80 and above.

Evil connives against good and entice all who live in Rangeeli Duniya, to follow them.
But does he succeed?

Read it in the most fascinating story you will ever read in Children’s Literature from writers in English, in India.

With excellent illustrations by Shreya Sen, the story comes to life and would be a fun read for kids and all, who love and care for a Sunday afternoon, with a refreshing book to read.

The humour is side-splitting and lifts the spirit sky high.

Here are some parts I loved much .

Tongue twister: “How much Greek can a gaggle of geese speak after a gaggle of geese have been to a geek to learn to speak Greek?”

Riddle: “Tell me, what grows down as it grows up?”

Play of words, bring so much humour:

“Nice place you have here, “said Titli.

“No, no. No plays, my dear. I’m afraid, we don’t have any shows or performances for our guests.”
“Absolutely brilliant – the stuffy nose,” Elbie repeated with a fond smile washing over her face.

“Does your friend Aluf have a cold?” Asked Titli

“Aluf has a cold? Who told you that?” Asked Elbie……” I said, my friend Aluf is brilliant. He is very well-read and the stuff he knows is amazing.”

“Gosh!” said Titli, putting her palms on her ears daintily. “I don’t think we are going to find any peace here.”

“That’s right, my dear,” a tiny voice piped up from nowhere, “If you want peas, it is better you head for the vegetable market down the road….”

And many other laugh out loud stuff all over the book.

Go, savour and enjoy, the delight of Nargisa’s Adventures.” No harm in getting Eblie's Quest too! It's FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Publisher: Scholastic India
Author: Manjul Bajaj
Illustrator: Shreya Sen
Pages: 176
Price: Kindle Rs 125; Paperback: Rs 156

Monday, February 15, 2016

Where Time Stands Still

Three generations of women with their children
Only a few kilometres from a diversion, as you move towards G D Goenka World University, on Sohna Road, Gurgaon, Haryana, you drive into a rough road that takes you inside villages, in the midst of wheat and mustard fields, with the Aravali mountains watching over. You might want to stop for a cup of tea and a little chat, but alas, there are no shops of that nature. So you drive deep till you arrive at a little space, with a cemented house, touching shoulders with rich farm houses, which are permanently unoccupied. But the rustic, house of the farmer, is large and spacious and houses, buffaloes, cats and dogs, robust men and hard working women.

The daily work begins at 3.30 am, while the rest of the world sleeps, the entire household is up and about, feeding the buffaloes and milking them. Indeed, by 6 am, the milk is transported to the city of Gurgaon, for the consumers, who prefer fresh milk instead of the packaged Mother Diary milk, available across Haryana. The day, ends only at 10 pm, after another round of milking the cow at 3.30 pm and then taking the milk once again to sell in Gurgaon, where, the glass faced corporate buildings, stare at each other, broken occasionally by off-white, well-designed houses, where people live, with only potted plants.

However, the Haryana government in its wisdom thinks that villagers, farmers, who need their sleep at night, must still have power in their muscles and just at bedtime, it diverts water and electricity to be used for watering the fields, where wheat, mustard and other vegetables grow.  From 10 pm to 4 am, this goes on. The farmers have a philosophy by which they live; accept what is available and use it to fulfill your needs. Hence, the entire household, in turns, stays awake to water the fields.

The social fabric of the people, sees, men and women slog alike, with some rest, in between. Indeed, the labour output between the sexes, is almost at par. But, don’t think, dear reader, that men and women share equal power. No, when the men are visible, the women in the household are not. They hide inside the kitchen, their rooms but no sooner the men are out of sight, they come centre stage, joyous and chatty as ever. Remember, these women are in purdah, and their voices are not heard. They are the ones, who are given in child marriage, to old men and boys, youth and uneducated alike, because, child marriage, still prevails, in these societies, in full view and knowledge of the police and politicians. We also know that the community is rigid, and caste is so deeply ingrained in their minds, that should a girl and a boy, dare to marry outside the caste, the entire village will stand and support, honourkilling.

And, even as you sign them off as gone case, and may even shun to drink milk, chhach and curd, made by rough, proletariat hands that have slogged from 4 to 6 am to produce the milk that will be at your breakfast table, or be a part of your morning coffee, in pockets, you find, in the midst of a society stuck in time, a spiritual guru, who is well-versed in Vedanta, the philosophy, most cherished by many in India and the world – the philosophy that rests on a simple fact, that the world is unreal, like the dreamer and the dream, which no matter how real, when dreaming, ceases to exist, when the dreamer wakes up. Likewise, the world is an illusion, like a dream, which ceases to be, once one attains Knowledge, or Samadhi.

Juxtaposed, against each other, stilled in time, extremes co-exist in villages in Haryana, where, atrocities against women, thrive, while, on the other hand so does the highest philosophy called Vedanta. Although, yet again, no matter what, she would never be allowed to go to an ashram, all by herself, without her husband, brother, father or the rest of the women folk in the family tagging along.
How much longer will it take, for society to burn the chains that bind it to the past? Will the law enforcing agencies, politicians and men ensure that there is no window that looks out towards a clear blue sky?

Will the dreamer, never wake up?

To view the pictures CLICK HERE

Thursday, February 04, 2016

First Person: Surupa Chatterjee recalls the day, Saddam Hussain stormed Kuwait

The year was 1990. It had been a few months only since I began to live in Calcutta, as I stepped into my early months in College, pursuing a Bachelor's Degree. My parents had come down from Kuwait, which had been my home for a few years. They were scheduled to go back on 3rd August when a sudden storm hit our lives. In a totally unexpected and shocking turn of events our lives were turned upside down as just past midnight, Iraq invading Kuwait on 2nd August 1990.

All of a sudden, it meant a series of uncertainties.

The internet age had not quite set in then and we were left with routine means like Newspapers, Television and a few odd calls from friends, and friends of friends who were either stuck in either shore - India or Kuwait - as the case might be. Overnight my father became almost unemployed and a worry wart as all his funds was stuck in Kuwait. 

At that time, Kuwait was a prosperous oil rich state and the invasion by Saddam Hussein's young army of recruits, did create a huff around the world, when, they landed overnight with guns and other lethal warfare and threatening all citizens alike.

Indeed, I was fortunate that my parents, escaped by the skin of their teeth, the unpleasant situation of being stranded in Kuwait and not really knowing which way their fates would take them. We heard stories of our very close friends being paraded in open desert and looted at gun point. Some were kicked and slapped around while most prayed for the Indian High commission in coordination with Indian government to work a miracle and do a rescue mission.

There were a few worries among the Indian expatriate population for antagonizing the sentiments of the local Kuwaiti population as news coverage showed the then External Affairs Minister Shri.I.K.Gujral embracing Saddam Hussein as old friends. Thankfully, after many days of fear and tension most of our friends in Kuwait did manage to get Airlifted back to the safe shores of India albeit the shock and trauma of the sudden invasion.

My fathers’ office was blown to smithereens, oil wells set on fire, our residential building had bullet holes and our abandoned apartments were thoroughly looted and left in a messy rubble of rejected items.

Yes, things did look up after eleven months when my father was called back to duty and he rejoined a new office building but the fire that had set in the quietness of the small peaceful state never really got back the earlier air. Some things had changed. Yes my father did get UN compensation, yes he was lucky to have escaped direct confrontation with the then enemy, while his state was being occupied and it still left a deep impact in our lives.

Surupa Chatterjee was born In Digboi, Assam and lived in Duliajan, an oil township in northeast India. Her fathers’ work took their family to Bhubaneshwar and then Kuwait. Surupa grew up in Kuwait and schooled there as well.  She is presently based in Kolkata, where she works during daytime and makes delicious dinners for the evening meal. 

Also read: Events that Lead Up To The Film Airlift

MoEA GoI expresses strong reservation against Airlift story line HERE