Book Review| Tamas by Bhisham Sahni

Hatred and enmity cannot transform so quickly into love and sympathy; they can only become crude laughter and sarcasm.

Bhisham Sahni, Tamas

Set in the undivided state of Punjab, Tamas follows the story of death and destruction that unfolds when riots break out in a mohalla after the carcass of a pig is found strewn over the stairs leading to a  mosque and spread across the state like wildfire.  

The novel provides an astonishingly accurate account of the events that unfolded in the country as it prepared itself to undergo partition amid riots, rightly blaming the British for their inaction and the political leaders for their utter disregard of religion, toying with it for political gain and perpetual power,  

But the novel isn’t only gory bloodshed. Amidst the  carnage, the novel also depicts random, heartwarming acts of love, kindness and selflessness, successfully igniting hope for humanity in the thick of riots, when it seemed none would be spared.

What really stands out about the book is the absence of a central character around whom the narrative develops.  Instead the story revolves solely around the riots; the cities they ravage and the lives they ruin, their sudden outbreak and similar subsiding. Sahni weaves his story cleverly enough to ensure that the story’s setting also becomes the protagonist and not surprisingly, the antagonist as well.

In narratives such as these, it’s quite difficult to grasp the audience’s attention for there isn’t any character to relate to and emotions to comprehend. Such novels depend entirely upon the story line, and I can assure you, in that regard, Tamas doesn’t disappoint.

However, the novel demands patience. Initially, a bit slow, but once the riots ensue, it keeps its readers glued to the edge of their seats.

The novel is a wonderful depiction of the tragedy of riots India witnessed during 1947. Coupled with Sahni’s brilliant style of writing and ability to engage an audience without any display of overwhelming emotions and excessive drama, the book is sure to turn out to be a delightful read for anyone.

Wading through the Dal Lake| Experiencing Kashmir

Wrapped in a blanket, I stand on the deck of the houseboat, overlooking the mighty mountains that encircle the Srinagar Valley. The sky is a deep, dull grey, marred by a heavy, thick fog. A solitary shikara wades through, shattering the pristine silence of the morning and the thin sheet of ice that covered the lake. Gradually, the fog lifts. As Dawn breaks, the sun rises lazily above the mountains, diffusing the sky with its golden light. In a second, the lake is now a crisscross of shikaras, some carrying flowers, others tourists who’ve already set out to explore the city.

The deck has a tiny bench to its corner, perfect for mornings such as this. I while away time sitting on it, watching the sun go higher and higher, drinking a steaming hot cup of ‘Kehwa’. The sound of chirping birds fills the sky, and every once in a while, one of them seeking rest flies down to the rails, stays a minute or two, some tilt their heads and look at me all weird, and then fly away again.

Since the rising sun did little to warm up the temperatures, I decide to spend the day in, reading and listening to music. The houseboat has its own music system, which I use to blast Hindi songs, mostly old(considering how trashy the new ones are). Sprawled over the ‘chaise’ in the living room, I read one of my favourite books, Khaled Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. Reading the book in Kashmir, I am all of a sudden reminded of the rampant terrorism eating away at the state every day of every week and how it is well on its way to becoming the new Afghanistan, its leaders the cause of its ruin.

I spend the evening with my boat’s manager, him cooking up a delicious, traditional, Kashmiri Paneer Chaman (cottage cheese slowly cooked in milk till its tender and soft and spiced with cardamom ) and Naan cooked in a tandoor for me to enjoy as I ask him (in retrospection) weird, random and uncomfortable questions that clearly irritated him.

picture credits: Cooking from Heart

Yet, the night was the best part of my entire day. Once again, out on the deck, my eyes continuously glide between the hundreds of stars, studded in the deep, purple-black sky and their reflection in the lake, dancing with its waves. In distance, the mountains are jet black silhouettes, rising up to the sky, as if ready to devour it. Half frozen to the bone, I watch the lake once again turn into a thin blanket of ice. But I stay transfixed at the bench, enjoying every moment of the ethereal sight.

Kashmir, for me, has been an experience of a lifetime. The state’s timeless beauty and its people’s kind generosity made it an adventure quite unforgettable. From enjoying the snow at Gulmarg to getting lost in the vast pastures of the Betab valley, hiking along the Jhelum and finally experiencing royalty at Dal Lake’s houseboats, there is nothing more I could have actually expected from a trip that only lasted 6 days.

Relevance of the ‘Boring’ Yesteryear Classics

For the longest time, I perceived that ‘Classics’ simply referred to books that were centred around themes that have successfully stood the test of time and continue to be as relevant today as they were in the times they were published. And with a little research, I realised I was right. Which lead me to thinking if they really were so relatable, then why do so many people, especially teenagers, find them so boring? Isn’t a good relevant story something that everyone desires?

Combing through all the classics I’ve read before, I found a few notable points that might bring out the side of classics we all missed.

It took me more than a month to finish To Kill A Mockingbird because honestly, I found it quite boring. It was only after a year and a half when I read it again that I realised how, with each turn of the page, the book raised more questions on the society’s disregard for an entire race of people. Yes, it becomes quite obvious from the courtroom scenes but you can’t really expect every teenager to read more than half a book they’re finding a bore from the start to even begin to understand what it’s even talking about!

Every book has a particular section of society it appeases. Just as you can’t expect an adult to enjoy a children’s storybook, Classics aren’t really meant for teenagers! Their underlying themes aren’t relatable enough for the average teenager and they often fail to understand the actual meaning behind each story. Yet, they’re a major part of their school curriculum and are forced to read them, instead of exploring these stories themselves, when they think the time is right.

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange, mixed affair we call life when a man takes his whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he directly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at everybody’s expense but his own.

All men live enveloped whale lives. All are born with halters round their necks, but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death that mortals realise the silent, subtle, ever present perils of life

Moby Dick

Moby Dick, a timeless classic, raises questions, answers to which are too profound for the understanding of every teen. Sure, some can. But not all.

Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Gone With The Wind, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities are some of the most widely read classics. And the one thing common about all of them is that they all share the same central theme of love. Even though individually, they’re all great books but reading so many of them based on the same theme does tend to get a little exhausting. After a while, despite different stories, it still seems as if the only thing changing is the scenery. For an average teen, these stories become mundane and uninteresting (also a tiny bit cheesy).

If all perished and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn into a mighty stranger

Wuthering Heights

What people often fail to realise is that classics are meant to be enjoyed over a longer period of time. If you’ve ever read(or even attempted to read) Heidi, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The book is full of vivid descriptions of her daily excursions with Peter to the mountains and her fascination with everything that comes her way, from shrubs and flowers to orange skies and snow. And if read leisurely, one would come around to appreciate the image Spyri paints, but on the other hand, if hurried even a bit, the book might seem a terrible bore, stretching on forever. Almost all Classics have a relatively slower pace and are much more descriptive as compared to other contemporary novels, which one can devour in the course of a day.

Despite all its ‘faults’, the importance of classics cannot be ignored. Even though a large part of the world believes classics to be tedious and dull, there is still a larger part that acknowledges their importance and relevance even today.

Classics have and will always be a brilliant source of insight into history. Their portrayal of yesteryear society, be it in its hollow opulence and grandeur (looking at you, The Great Gatsby) or strife of the deprived and penniless paints a vivid yet true picture. So many of them are astonishingly accurate displays of history, be it The French Revolution and its devastation on the aristocracy, nobility and commoners alike in A Tale of Two Cities or an allegorical parallel to the Russian Revolution in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Other books down a similar line include Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas, depicting the tragedy of the 1947 riots on India, Diary of a Young Girl and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

They raise issues that continue to be relevant even today. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is themed around issues of alienation and pangs of loneliness, very much relevant in today’s society, where depression and social anxiety are quite common. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 has a much deeper meaning to it than what it seems. It is a warning against technology’s ability to control and drive society, usually for the worse,. Its ability to spread rumours and false information, all too real in the present scenario.

Most importantly, in the years of their publication, classics brought to everyone’s notice pressing issues that society refused to face. They questioned society’s stringent and rigid boundations. Attacked its empty standards and values. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre aren’t just stories of love but also of a woman’s fight against society’s unrealistic expectations. Its perception of the ideal woman, submissive and complying. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, brings to light the absurd bureaucratic restrictions on World War II so poignantly that the state of Ohio banned it on the pretext of ‘vulgar language’.

Classics are always accompanied with an important social message, relevant to the society, but of course, not to all its constituents. However, sooner or later, one does begin to understand them, and even though they might not come to enjoy it, but most do learn to appreciate them for their ideas and insight.

The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us

Fahrenheit 451

What is your take on classics? Do you find them interesting and insightful or feel that their relevance has worn off over time? Feel free to drop your opinions in the comments below!

Manali|Following the Nature’s Trail

Lost amidst an extravaganza of green, with only the faint sound of the gurgling Beas on the right and the loud chirping of the birds hidden away in the huge Cedars and Deodars to guide me, I keep walking, hoping to find the thin dirt trail that I had so unreasonably deviated from. They’d warned me against it, saying that it’s quite easy to get lost in a jungle such as this that extends no less than ten kilometres.

But there’s something mischievously adventurous about not obeying simple instructions and so, I deviated from the path anyway. After all, there is no fear of any wild animals here, but this trail is surely known for the majestic birds it is a haven to. And you never see them on the marked path! I was lucky enough to see the ‘State Bird’, the beautiful Western Tragopan(Jujurana in the native language), amidst quite a few others, brilliantly camouflaged amidst the lush green everywhere. Far away from the trail, of course.

Everywhere I looked, huge Deodars shot up into the sky, and in the distance, looked as if silhouettes of a mountain. Tiny specks of sunlight filtered to the ground, from whatever little space the canopy permitted. The pleasant scent of Deodars hung in the air, refreshing and rejuvenating.

An exemplary view of the mighty Deodars that grow literally everywhere in Manali

This nature reserve, set only a kilometre away from Manali seems as if it were out right from a John Keats or Robert Frost poetry collection. The beauty is unparalleled, and the trail is relatively unknown to tourists and so, extremely quiet and pristine. An excellent place for you to gather your thoughts, relax and wander. You can sit here for hours without anyone passing you by and a little off the track, you’ll find hundreds of beautiful pine cones, the perfect souvenir from your trip to any mountain city in India.

If you’ve ever been to Manali before, you might have noticed a barred forest right behind the Hidimba temple. Yup. Part of the nature trail. It really does extend for 10 kilometres.

Manali is a quaint, peaceful town, otherwise known as a backpacker’s paradise and attracts a huge tourist population every year who wish to continue forward from here on the various treks the place has to offer. However, they fail to realise the innate beauty of the valley itself. Manali has a plethora of Sanctuaries, Parks and Hot Water Springs that its travellers are unaware of, and this Nature Trail is only a tiny glimpse of it.

The Manali Nature Park is located 2 kms away from Manali, on the Bhuntar – Ramshila Road, in Mohal. The best time to visit it is between May to October, when the Beas is rapid and the trees lush and green.

Silent Pleas of an Introverted Mind

In the world’s narrow, rigid square, there isn’t any corner for the introvert’s solace.

The society’s inability to accept people for their true self selves is no more a secret. Just like a hundred other things, it has also refused to acknowledge that there might be a Group of people who enjoy their own company better than anyone else’s, which is probably the reason I felt guilty every time I made myself a cup of tea and sat in my room with a book instead of going to a movie or visiting the new cafe in town like everyone else.

The continuous disapproval of everything we do makes the life of a silent, introverted child quite difficult. I remember vividly the numerous times my parents have sat me in a room and asked me what was troubling me and why I was so quiet. And every time I told them it was nothing, they’d push even harder. They simply didn’t accept the fact that I’m always that way! Even my teachers would force me to speak up in class and at every parent-teacher meet, they’d complain about how I was failing to live up to my potential.

The high value that the society has accredited to personality traits such as assertiveness and affability has set everyone on a goose chase of the extrovert ideal. We live in a world where ‘outspoken’ and ‘outgoing’ are the best compliments one can get and quiet and shy is considered outright shameful. When you’re in school, you become the subject of everyone’s ridicule and college becomes a headache to get through if you aren’t social.

Today, introversion has become synonymous to low self esteem and an inability to speak in public, even though it is far from the reality. Introverts are often marked with better creativity and intellect as can be proved by quite a few examples such as that of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, Steve Wozniac, co-founder of Apple Inc. and inventor of the modern computer, and famous poets and authors such as John Keats and Robert Frost, whose works are admired even today. Introversion is nothing more than being introspective rather than outgoing, finding comfort in oneself rather than someone else and most importantly, we’re not depressed, just quiet, because that’s the way we like it and no more.

Yet, the world sees little use of the brilliant introvert. To them, it is not the idea that counts, but the ability to sell it is what really matters. It is time now for the neglected introvert to rise finally, and show the world the power of the Quiet. Show it that we’re no less. Undoubtedly, the world does need its share of Oprahs, but, America wouldn’t have had a Civil Rights Movement if not for Rosa Parks.

The hype around Teen Romances and why I don’t buy it

To sum it up in one word, Originality. But there are definitely quite a few other problems that I’ve encountered with them.

In 2012, when the Fault In Our Stars was published, it was all the rage. Everyone was reading it and those who weren’t were at least talking about it. The book became an instant hit and went on to become the #1 New York Times bestseller. If you check its Goodreads rating, it is a 4.2 and everyone seems to like it.

3 years later, All The Bright Places was published and received a similar response. The same 4.2 rating on Goodreads and every bokstagrammer and book blogger was talking about it.

However, with a more critical viewpoint, I realised that most Teen Romances, or Young Adult Romance(as they’re more commonly known) revolve around a similar story line. Predictable and boring. Very boring.

Reading Teen Romances seems like someone put up a recipe on the Internet showing how its done and now everyone’s following it down to the bone. Here’s a few plot lines and problems I’ve encountered with almost every Teen Romance I’ve read:

First of all, at least one, if not both main characters have a terminal or mental illness that has completely altered their life. And bonus! If it’s a mental illness, they don’t even know about it yet. And if neither, they’re torn apart from a brutal divorce or an edging on divorce situation between their parents, afraid of what’s to come and desperately trying to keep themselves out of it.

Also, if it’s a depressed gal, she’s always described in a way that implies ‘hot beyond measure’ and is also very very popular. On the other hand, if its a guy, then he’s tagged a freak and no one really enjoys his company.

Secondly, if the main character does have a mental illness, no one really seems to care about the fact that the he has a problem which desperately needs treatment. They refuse to treat their problem as a real one and often have a ‘get over it’ attitude. Its almost as if.. “My son popped up numerous sleeping pills today but hey.. he’s only suicidal.”

Third, all teen romances have the same underlying theme. The two fall in love with each other as one tries to teach the other to enjoy life and live it to the maximum while they’re themselves falling deep into oblivion. Dying because of their illness, committing suicide and leaving behind the other to just magically cope up with it because they know that that is exactly what the other would have wanted.

Fourth, The authors try too hard to make the book such that it pulls at the heartstrings of their readers that they don’t mind sacrificing the ingenuity of the narrative’s flow. As a result, the love between the characters seems forced, and often fake. Moreover, these Teens spew life altering monologues as and when the situation demands it and no one seems to care that they’re just.. um 15!! They haven’t witnessed even a third of what life really is and still manage to be so ‘woke’. Again, the authors desperate attempt to impact its readers through a flurry of quickly passing emotions, and not a sensible story that’d definitely stay with them longer.

“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for nothing. Maybe this time is coming soon or it is a million years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we wont survive forever.”

Augustus Waters, The Fault In Our Stars

“More good women have been lost to marriage than to war, famine, disease and disaster.”

Cruella DeVille, 101 Dalmatians

Just as everyone complains of how one of the best feminist lines of the century in a movie were given to a villain, it is difficult to believe that such heavy lines would be spoken by a 17 year old instead of someone who is 70. Especially when on the other hand, they ask really stupid questions otherwise!

“Why are breakfast foods breakfast foods? Like why can’t we have curry for breakfast”

Hazel Grace (she’s 16, not 6)

The characters’ words fail to match up with their carefree personalities. Sometimes, they’re too mature for their age and other times talk as if they’re 3 year old inquisitive kids who keep asking questions about everything they see. And that, for me, is one of the biggest turn offs when it comes to a Teen Romance. Let’s just keep sudden realisations of worldly workings to Paulo Coelho and self help books please. I’d really like a dash of reality in a teenage romance for once.

Fifth, the characters fall in love with each other too easily! The protagonists meet 2 chapters into the book and the time between their first Hi and first kiss seems non-existent. It takes time to build any relation of substance and Teen Romance often fails to reason out why the two characters fell for each other. The little nuances that really attract them to each other.

Sixth, the character’s illness is often used merely as an accessory to accentuate and build tension in the plot of the story. Usually the ill one breaks down in the middle of the night and tell away the other the next morning, claiming they don’t want to meet them anymore or probably get really angry and take it out on them. Otherwise, there is effectively no mention of how their illness affects them amid their daily lives except probably when they’re first introduced to the reader. Cancer is hard, so is Depression. But these books fail to convey the pain and hardships that the characters suffer from and the difficulties they face in their everyday lives. They fail to provide any actual insight into the character’s life with illness and end up being nothing more than superficial romances. Moreover, Teen Romances that end in one of its characters committing suicide often end up glorifying the act.

Also, they’re very cheesy. The genre is saturated with books along the lines of ‘love at first sight’ and ‘hot guys ending up with the fat gals’. And don’t even tell me that’s just promoting a healthy body image, because its not. It implies that its okay to be fat as long as you have a hot boyfriend. And if otherwise, then why is it never the other way round, let alone both of them being fat.

I have always believed the main purpose of reading a book is to gain insight into the life of a person, and understanding them better than before. To be able to perceive society through a different perspective and under a completely different lens, allowing one to know and comprehend it better. However, for me, Teen Romance fails to meet up with those expectations.

I cried reading both, The Fault In Our Stars and All The Bright Places along with numerous other Teen Romances. But, I’ve also realised that you can’t judge a book by its capability to bring you to tears.

END RANT. THANK YOU FOR BEARING.

Pic credits: Instagram (treatyoshelves17)

Of Books, Mountains & Coffee|Cafe Illiterati, Dharamshala

Tucked away in the corner of a mountain road is a petite little cafe, relatively uncrowded and quite mesmerising. Illiterati, in McLeodganj, is a book lover’s paradise.

Huge bookshelves line the length and breadth of the cafe, full of books from a wide variety of genres, including tonnes of classics. A huge balcony offers a mesmerising view of the mighty Dhauladhars above and the quaint, colourful valley of Dharamshala below. Sipping coffee and enjoying the gentle mountain breeze, one can sit at the cafe for hours at length, reading books all the while.

I discovered the cafe by complete chance. I was descending down from Mcleodganj to Dharamshala when it had begun to rain heavily. I did not have an umbrella with me which left me with no option than to keep walking till I found some shade. Walking on for about half a mile, I chanced upon the cafe, immediately intrigued by its entrance covered in a canopy of plants.

Walking into the cafe, it felt as if I had gone back an era. Its numerous plants and intricately carved wooden furniture exuded a rustic, old world charm that I did not wish to shake off. A strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee, mixed with a slight hint of burnt chocolate hung in the air. On the other side, huge French windows offered a magnificent view of the majestic, lush green mountains. I stayed at the cafe long after the rains had ceased, gorging over some delicious Belgian Waffles and Latte while reading ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell.

Somewhere between 6:00 – 6:30 in the evening, I looked up from by book to see the sun set over the mountains, setting ablaze the sky in myriad shades of purple. Unfortunately, It was also a reminder for me to go. Any late, and i wouldn’t have been able to get off the road before it was dinnertime, and I desperately needed rest.

My experience with Illiterati has proved to be an amazing one and I’d love to go their again. The delicious food, aesthetic interiors and a gorgeous view, everything about the cafe was beyond imaginable. I was lucky enough to have discovered this little gem on my visit here and under no circumstances should you miss out on it, no matter how tight your schedule is or how tired you are. This library cum cafe is definitely worth a visit and once you do, you’ll crave for it, over and over again.

Image credits: Illiterati