The verses eponymous with the displacement of minds, cherished identity, death, and love for mother coalescing into seamless emotions, joy and chasm of existence embedded into our complex relations. Kunal Uniyal’s Sparrow in the mirror depicts the flow of intense imagery visualized in a searing manner that pushes us towards the crude reality, at times painful and the other soothing, the momentary joy that we often relegate into oblivion as we are caught up in the humdrum of routine life.
The book is a collection of poetry interweave together, lyrical at times and a flurry of vastly intense emotions constituting its intrinsic beauty. It soothes the soul like a balm and prayer that cures the reader of its complexities or bruises that resides in the mind, albeit the maladies inflicted on us in various forms.
The poems right from Sparrow in the Mirror to House of Life and Mother takes the readers on a path of devotion becoming the voice of the mother waiting for the son with bated breath or exploring the nuanced tales of envy, jealousy, confinement of one’s image in glass and the constant fear we live in where shying from one’s shadow is perhaps the biggest punishment for a fettered mind. The unadulterated love of a mother who often finds herself lonely but doesn’t think twice to hold and protect her cubs from the evil ways of the world is paid the perfect tribute and divinely revered by the author.
In ‘What is death?’ the author explores the layers of complexity and metaphysical, painting it with a brush of renaissance and liberation which is beyond sadness or the common understanding of the world. The lines are beautifully done:
“Is it a dark abyss or a sacred rite?
Or is it subtle, sublime yet supreme delight?
Or liberation of soul from the desire filled hive’
He offers hope in the wake of extreme pain and bruises to showcase that it may not be the end of anything and ravaging the ego to make a fresh beginning. ‘Dwarfed by Ego’ is a gem that speaks about love and possession, something powerful and simple that ordinary mortals may not understand.
Face behind Face is about the mask of fake identity that we brandish in town that dehumanize us at every second of life and we are often at the crossroad, albeit in conflict with the real identity or detachment of the spirit. Of course, Liberty is about setting the self-free in all forms and ‘Who am I?’ taps into the divine light or manifestation done in the delectable spirit to spread the wings free. The ‘Quest for Truth’ is all about surrender to the divine form where Captain Kunal makes a beautiful analogy to Jesus Christ, tried on the cross and one can interpret how conveyers of truth are dealt mercilessly in today’s times. The examples are telling and one shall refrain from crossing the threshold of poetry to give it an undertone in the current political scenario.
The author beautifully ends the collection by paying the fitting tribute and devotion to his lord, Krishna who is the only ‘supreme’ force, the friend, advisor and enthralling warrior who plays the perfect flute. There is something called the dance of envy and I call it the poem of the divine.
Kunal Uniyal’s Sparrow in the mirror is not just a modicum of expression to relay words but a sacred prayer laden with an intensity that rings an echo in the hearts and minds’ chakra to awaken seamless souls that makes the vibrant universe. No poetry lover can afford to miss ‘Sparrow in the mirror’ weaved in the simplest language that will help them discover another facet and depth embedded in poems.
PS: The book Sparrow in the mirror was sent to me by the author Captain Kunal Uniyal in exchange for a honest review. You can check the blurb on Goodreads, click here to get a copy and connect with the author on Twitter.
There are ‘blissfully married couples. Come again! Potential grooms and brides ever ready to take the plunge but may be may be the punch. Ok, honey! Don’t crucify me for not making pancake which is rocket science. Then, there people like me who are commitment phobic and doesn’t know the A-Z of a married life. When Peter Davidson contacted me from US on LinkedIn to review his book and during our e-mail exchanges, I felt like climbing on the top of Everest but today, I can claim that the book, ‘Marital advice to my Grandson, Joel’ is the holy truth told by the author through his first-hand experience on the rules of marriage. Quirky humor is a tool not only effectively used by the author but seems to be his forte in making it a handbook that puts a smile on the lip.
The author tinkers with innovative, light situations in making powerful points and speaks in a direct language in reaching out to the common man. The book is dedicated to his grandson Joel and the latter’s wife Abby but is tongue-in-cheek making it a smart read for everyone on the line. Davidson uses the 80-20 rules when it comes to the house space shared between the husband or wife. No prize for guessing which part of the house belongs to the man and no wonder we call the lady of the house, the rightful owner.
The ten commandments of marriage, like I call it, broaches several themes between a husband and wife whether when it’s nothing means something, the three strategies: win-lose, lose-lose or win-win strategy where letting the storm calm is the best possible outcome. The language and narration stand out through the in-law philosophy of 101 where the temperature can get below zero in the miserable winter. Don’t wrack your brain. Davidson was alluding to the in-laws who many men like us may see as our worst of enemies but tact is the surest way to win not just over them but their daughter.
The liberal dose of humor comes in various forms and the author comes with a step-by-step approach on gestures and signs like loud language or voice, silence, lip, laugh, touching, leaning, frying pan where the man is better advised to observe and be perceptive.
The surest way to win over your lady-love or wife is the personalized handcrafted greeting card, singing a song or read poetry which is the old chivalrous way of serenading her and surely one of my favorite part in the book laden with effortless humor.
I am not a married bloke and it’s tough for me to point out at flaws in the book. The book carries many important facets on what makes a marriage successful but would have loved it if the author pointed out at situations leading to breakdown in relationships or ways to overcome the tension, boredom or tackling straying that can happen. Also, there is some inference that many could interpret as being sexist in form and substance that may crop up.
Marital advice to my Grandson, Joel is a book seems to be very close to the author’s heart, a man forever young in his mind who has mastered the tricks over the years. The teachings can be applied to any society or age where at times, we forget what makes a successful marriage. The rules are old yet priceless. What better way than to play by the games in a humorous manner which constitutes the core of the book which is no less interesting than a light romance novel in appearance. For sure, it’s no work of fiction but a book which breaks the monotony that I am sure is helpful not only to newly married couples but people hitched for a long time. Go for it.
Love is an intense emotion which is portrayed in an intense manner to depict the various nuances in relationships. There is no dearth of romance tales but rare are the stories written with a twist and sensitivity about hearts that click together. Jyoti Arora’s You came like Hope is about the dichotomy of love and identity, unpeeling the layers in the female character and explores to depth the contrasts and similarities at the same time. The female character is the lead in a narrative where she wears her vulnerability on her sleeve unabashedly in a story that never ceases to surprise the reader in every sequence. It unfolds like the mystery similar to the pot boilers that we don’t get to see on screen anymore. In short, ‘You came like Hope’ is a very contemporary love story and beautifully tapping the identity of a woman, ego trip, guilt while offering a unique interpretation on the complexity of relationships.
In love, there is hope and no matter how much we thwart it or run away from, it chooses its own way to catch us in the unlikeliest place. Jyoti Arora uses this metaphor in a subtle manner and deftly runs a parallel story about love vs lust and deception vs purity as she puts to fore the need for human identity which is a huge price to pay in today’s world. The book works in an intelligent manner where the concept of ‘double identity’ is set in the modern parochial and patriarchal times similar to the test a woman faces at every end in playing roles of the perfect daughter or sister, subjected to the whim and fancy of the world.
A tale of mistaken identity, drama and the suspense laced at the same pace as the parallel story adds to the beauty of the plot. The characters Peehu and Pankhi whip a storm with the entertainment quotient going a notch higher at every moment be it romance, conflict or the confrontation while portraying the relationship between Peehu and Adih verging on friendship as an antidote to love.
The book boasts of light moments of romance handled in a deft manner where the ice cream licking act subtly expresses friendship slowly growing into love. There are several high moments, be it the birthday party or the intimacy plucked like tender flowers adding sheen and magic to the emotions of love.
Of course, the little child, Mani is one of the pivotal characters and is endearing and sweet at the same time in the way she brings the lovers’ together. Uday is one grey character who portrays ego and wouldn’t pull any stop in manipulating and humiliating for his own selfish end. Yet, he is afflicted by hurt which he conceals through the shade of evil. The character Pooja is an alter ego to Uday but in contrasting degree while making a blink-and-eye appearance to mysteriously disappear.
The conflict is inherent in the book and pops up as love blossoms between Adih and Peehu the time the estranged woman surfaces. However, the conflict between the lovers is fleshed a bit too fast and should have been explored further. The character Pooja has a huge potential as the face of evil that could have been extended till the climax but she fails to make a searing impact since she appears in a smart manner adding to the intrigue.
You came like Hope is a light read and is a refreshing tale in tapping the various emotions of love, angst, pain and shaming a woman where Peehu is a hell of character which is endearing and complex at the same time. Peehu is the opposite of Adih but both make the perfect combination. Jyoti Arora has beautifully concocted a different love story where the character of a woman is explored in a wholesome manner that makes it a winner. You came like Hope is a refreshing love triangle to read this season.
Indian mythology and particularly the great battle between Kauravas and Pandavas in the Mahabharata which continues to fascinate us and holds a prominent place in Hinduism. There are countless authors who are adopting the mythological stories by adding a dash of modernity in making the characters human and down to earth. Author Manoshi Sinha’s Blue Vanquisher is the second book as part of Krishna’s trilogy which followed the Eighth Avatar where she shows her devotion for the Lord which is a much-admired character in the history of Hindu mythology.
In short, Blue Vanquisher makes for an interesting read on the place Lord Krishna occupies in Hindu history which serves as a good guide to living a life laden with humility, sacrifice, and hard work.
Circa 3216 BCE! The end of Dwapar Yug! The first battle between Krishn and Jarasandh, the king of Magadh, ended in favor of the former. Sixteen more battles followed, one after another, with grander strategies and bigger armies in the outskirts of Mathura. To avert the 18th battle, Krishn did something. What did Krishn do?
The Blue Vanquisher is an attempt to trace the life of Lord Krishna from his 14th to 85th years. There are several instances in the book right from the romance between Krishna and Rukmini that makes for an interesting account as well as the former’s friendship with Balram and Sudhama. Through the narration, the author showcases the friendship with Sudhama in a heart-wrenching manner touching several aspects such as the sacredness of relationship where prejudices or class differences play no part.
The climax makes for an interesting read where Draupadi makes a tirade and doesn’t even spare her own husband, Yuddhistir which puts to the fore the role of a wronged woman in society. The book discusses several issues such as the victory of good over evil in this tale where Krishna has always been a very competent ruler who strived to put an unbiased perspective, something that many of us should learn from.
On the whole, Blue Vanquisher makes quite an interesting read for people who are not well versed with the Mahabharata and the role of Lord Krishna in the Hindu way of life.
Blue Vanquisher tells the story of Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata but, at the same time, it could have been set in the contemporary times by injecting a dose of realism to make them contemporary in real-time. At some point, the narration becomes drab with the 256 odd pages and perhaps the author could have given the narration a compact twist coupled with shortening the length. But, then, the book ends with the preparation of the Mahabharata war and one can only hope that the author builds on the interesting premise to make it engrossing.
The Blue Vanquisher serves as a good guide for people who are keen to explore the basics about the Mahabharata and Lord Krishna who is adored by many devotees. Another plus point is the author’s devotion for Lord Krishna. The book has both its high and low moments but, at the same time, the war climax is quite engaging where it promises to be an enthralling affair during the next installment.
You can check the author’s page here and buy the book on Amazon.
‘I would not be an MC-BC (that’s mike carrier/bite collector’ in TV parlance and not just the Hindi gaali you’re thinking of!) I was free to gallivant about the country doing stories that I liked. If they gave me the show, it also meant that among the barrage of political reportage coming in across the country, my stories had less chances of getting lost.’
Today, Indian television occupies every tiny space like encroachers on pavements where some go to the rhetoric length while a few believe in their stories, not hesitating to make us discover the very small towns and villages, against whom we nurture biased prejudices. NDTV’s Sunetra Choudhury’s Braking News is laden with intelligent humor which not only brings her electrifying persona alive but exudes an honest vulnerability as a journalist as Election Express steers 200 kilometers a day during the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
Braking News is an election special where she along with fellow journalist Naghma travels through the length and breadth of the country in NDTV’s iconic red bus. At one shot, Braking News is a must read for aspiring journalists to unravel stories hidden in the vast Indian hinterland but should also be decoded in journalism schools or for experienced journalists in need for reinvention.
Sunetra Choudhury has a rich command over the down-to-earth expressions and a rich vocabulary boasting of self-depreciation humor, but most importantly a storyteller with a unique flair which shows the journalism penchant for hunting human stories that a nation needs much beyond the daily diatribe to boost TRP. There are very few, among journalists and intellects who would confide in a book how stories are rejected, a make-up gone horribly wrong and publishing hate letters from viewers. We are introduced to the superstar journalist Naghma who remained unfazed by all the attention and characters like the camera people Mohammed and Nishant or the chain-smoker with a heart of gold, Ganga Singh-Ji driving them to explore various facets of India.
Aspirations are inherently vibrant among small-town folks when we see an 11-year-old Hirendra in Penchmohalla speaking fluent English and confident on his aspirations to become a doctor. One can only languish at a rotten system that kills dreams in the embryo. Isn’t it true for lakhs in small towns and villages? Contrast it with little Bhuri, a young girl in Shivgarh staring at Sunetra when village women urge the journalist to take her along. There is saying that we compromise with what we lack and perhaps, the motherless Bhuri was making do with and secretly wishing to run away to soar in the sky. Why do we obliterate the fact that we belong to a failed system?
Braking News is not a book restricted to journalism but the people in India and our prejudices when we see Naghma fascinated by temples and on account of being a Muslim visiting a Hindu place of worship shouldn’t grab an eyeball. But the conversation between the two ladies finds relevance when the danger of tolerance lurks in. The fact that Naghma takes an active part in rituals and when she walked past a temple with a notice, ‘Only Hindus are allowed’ makes us hope for our secular future and the values which India has always stood for.
Of course, the honesty is searing in Braking News when the author tells the tale of local journalist Narayan who marches ahead to unearth real issues in Andhra Pradesh on the poor and slum dwellers when roads are built overnight to impress upon foreign dignitaries. A far cry from the mainstream media weighing the impact of nuclear disarmament, geopolitics and India’s might over Pakistan and nicely ignoring the need for ‘roti, kapda aur makaan.’ We often get the impression that the poor don’t exist where real issues such as decent roads, eliminating potholes, drainage, better roads or nutrition finds no relevance.
Bihar is one state that hogs the limelight for more wrong reasons than right ones not just during the feverish election but when scandals rock the boat. Of course, Lalu is a common thread but there is a life beyond the faces when we take pleasure in scorning on bhaiyas. The issues are real, be it electricity-deprived villages while a tower stood high or street smart children hailing from the state-funded Jharkhand schools mastering six languages but yet the one to open floodgates of opportunities, English, was not taught in schools.
It’s no secret that Laloo is a self-obsessed man where the author offers a first-hand account of the man many think to be a cartoon. It’s revealing to see the man fancying for the NDTV’s red bus to win over his people.
Of course, one revelation that perhaps would make many shudder are the college-going Haryanvi girls who cannot vote before they are married. Traditions can be strange and the balance heavily tilted against women where we are tempted to say, ‘No country or state for women.’ The episode of the Haryanvi girls should plague us since we are dealing with postgrads students who remain unaffected on their rights to freedom or democracy. The future should worry us with this Sarpanch herd mentality where making a voting card is a seemingly lost cause.
Sexism remained an important part of the campaign where women are at receiving ends on the different treatment being meted out. It’s a sexist world with distinct power stroke strategy for both men and women. Actress turned politician Jaya Pradha paid a huge price when she was labeled for her dancing skills and ‘theatrics’ by Azam Khan rather than being questioned for her lack of political astuteness or policy strategy.
The light moments flits effortlessly in the book where Naghma is incensed as Sunetra innocently asked what’s ‘thandai’ the last glass relished on the trip or the most hilarious moment when the author asked a gun toting dude in public, ‘Are you from a daaku family?’ It seems innocent and fearful at the same time but the instances could have easily been part of a humorous rom-com book about a couple eloping. Love it.
The Modi wave was a single thread missing in the 2009 election when L K Advani led the pack and perhaps Sunetra could have offered a glimpse on the former PM’s candidate prospect, no matter how bleak it appeared in real time. Sonia Gandhi is another intriguing character as the Congress’ high command and how I wanted an insight not just in her life but also Priyanka who bears streaks of grandmother, Indira Gandhi.
‘Everyday I’d stood up to the journalistic test of being only as good as my last story. But after, today, would I be content to go back to my old beat, running between the Congress office and Parliament?’
It’s no easy task to pen a book like Braking News which complements humor, by-lanes, the real India we call Bharat which offers seamless insights into lives hidden by the smokescreen. Like Sunetra Choudhury says, Election Express was an arduous task yet it offers an experimental journey that would alter the journey of a journalist worth its salt. Braking News is the book you need to read if you want to understand the nuances of journalism in India and I say it as an outsider. The book makes you feel like a traveler in the Election Express.
Tenzin Lhamo is a Tibetan born in India. She is smart and politically conscious. There is a certain charm in the fleshing of a character, driven by passion and ambition. What she lacks is a home she can call her own. She is wild in a subdued manner but armed with dreams to conquer her world. The novel Mountains to Manhattan, as the name implies, traces the journey of a Tibetan girl, in the high-cold desert of Leh in the Himalayas to Bangalore, Delhi, Austria, and Manhattan in the quest for an identity.
What if you were born without a country? Tenzin Lhamo is a Tibetan born in India. To fulfill her own aspirations and that of her family, Tenzin undertakes a perilous journey halfway across the world in search of a country that would own her, give her respect and freedom as its citizen and let her earn enough to support her family. Was she given the dignity, she yearned for? Tagged Chinese, an identity all Tibetans shun, she wondered if it was worth the cost of a citizenship.
The book opens in an engrossing manner where the author, Pinakie Kansabanik paints a vibrant picture about life in the mountainous and raven valley coated with amusing anecdotes by Tenzin’s granny who cannot get enough about her past Tibetan life.
The small house carved with clay, the celebration of the local new year Losar and a peek into the village life, the walls of the house, ‘sloped inwards and a layer of shattered twigs and juniper branches were the ceiling’ lends a certain simplicity and human endearment to a story which is a rarity nowadays.
The soupy noodles offered to the God, it’s called Thupka and Granny’s ritual of flinging the food towards the sky as if it’s a toast on the eve of Losar enriches the narration with a delectable flavor pretty much like the staple Tsampa diet. Beautifully constructed and weaved like a lyrical hymn celebrating humanity in a spirited galore.
The pain of displacement is brought to the fore with the self-immolation of one Thubten Ngodup in public glare to raise attention on the plight of the community, with people sitting under a huge white canopy or wearing black bandana as part of the free Tibet movement. It’s a reality which finds resonance in today’s time right from Palestine to Rohingya. The author makes a powerful statement on the silent rebellion of a displaced community which raises questions on basic human rights where a local community of settlers feels excluded. It’s grave and not limited solely to the Tibet community but the North East community, Jammu populace or Kashmiris, born and bred in India.
The author raises pertinent questions on the anguish faced and battling the label as ‘refugee’ in one’s own country. There is pain borne in everyday reality where the protagonist has to seek clearance issued by the Government in the form of identity certificate, another name for a visa-like document seeking permission to breathe the fresh air in one’s land.
The character Tenzin is a girl in a hurry in the quest to crave for human identity coupled with the dearth of opportunity or freedom for her lot. It begs the question on a borderless land to conquer fear and the reality at the other end of the road where equal opportunity seems to be a term lost in translation, a world that we choose to willfully ignore. There are questions that disturb us at a time when we are aspiring to become a first world country yet people born and bred in the country are excluded on flimsy ground, be it poverty, as unequal citizens deprived of their identity and rights.
We have all heard about the chinki pejorative which is not only used but spread or perpetuated in our society slowly building up into a social malaise. Pinakie Kansabanik builds an effectively animate and fiery conversation between Tenzin and her boss when she wants to move out of the country in the quest for a better life on the plight faced on being a Tibetan.
The book is engrossing and a page-turner on the plight of the Tibetan community but at some point or the other, there is a certain cliché which slackens the narrating flow. The sequence where the protagonist’s mother makes an over the top drama by accusing her of having sex or raped by a boy she likes seems forced to the plot. Moreover, the entire adventure of pretending to be born in China while seeking Austrian asylum and once business gets done, she moves to the United States using the same trick gets tedious after some point.
On the whole, Pinakie Kansabanik’s Mountain to Manhattan is a powerful book which stresses on the plight of the Tibetan community and their sense of alienation in a powerful manner. It raises several important questions about the lives of refugees that go much beyond what we read in the news. The story is bold, riveting and tears our heart in a gut-wrenching manner. Of course, there is no dearth of light moments in the book for the author has injected the endearing concept of exchange of the good ole love letters as love blossoms. It’s something we don’t see anymore in books. It’s one aspect that helps to break the seriousness or gloom that sets in. A must read.
Click on Amazon to buy your copy. You can check the author’s website here.
You cannot observe India from a distance, our rich history, painful past, the caste system, cross-dressing politics, plight of women treated as second-class citizens, terror or Kargil war. India boasts of a rich history and legacy that no one can blithely claim to ignore. Unravelling skeletons in the cupboard is something many of us wouldn’t dare to do.
‘This Unquiet Land’ offers a subtext and narrative of journalism often aired live in recording studios about a country which is forever restless and provokes chaos entrenched in our lives as we wear the cloak of passive spectators. Barkha Dutt who is arguably one of the most talked journalists is never shy to explore the issues with depth and explore our contradiction as a nation.
Barkha Dutt remains for me a journalist of indomitable courage and someone whom I hold in the highest regard. One couldn’t stop smiling when she narrates anecdotes about her initial years in the profession.
The book starts with this anecdote that makes one smile on how a young Barkha Dutt leaped and sat on the bonnet of the car and obstinately refused to be buckled down. The brash brat TV kid, after all, started her career at a time when private TV has just seeped into our lives.
War zone & conflict, terror, and peace
‘War is one thing but basic human right is another’
The Kargil war occupies a place of pride in our history, the Sachian glacier and of course, sons of our soil like Captain Vikram Batra and Vishal Sikka who gave a dose of realism and makes us shudder down the spine to think the soldiers walked past the barren and cold mountains. Barkha Dutt gives a first-hand account of negotiations between General Malik and PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee or the hard truth about the US’s colorable device who always jump the gun, albeit interference whenever it suits their vested interests.
It is very easy to succinctly give in to temptation on war zone not for the comfort offered but inherent fear of bombs and guns splintered. It commands respect and admiration when the journalist tells in an equivocal manner that she expects no special favor on the account of being a woman. It is relevant in the present times where we debate at length on the place of woman in society.
The fear of terrorism is ingrained in our psychology. Dutt reminds us of events that we have comfortably forgotten, be it the Coffingate scandal in the procurement of Kargil coffin and the security lapse when an Ambassador car hoodwinked security to find its way inside parliament. It simply blows the mind when we come with the lame excuse of being within striking distance. The lack of aggressiveness in our foreign policy and tackling terror is legendary.
Same echo during the 26/11 when we witnessed an entire collapse of the defense system, right from wireless communications to dearth of reinforcement and the support team. It’s blatant. It was an unequal battle where the bulletproof jackets failed to protect against 9 mm bullets. The substandard protective gears show how corruption is deeply rooted in the system or the obsolete jacket worn by forces where a city was brought to its knee.
Dutt’s book portrays the shoddy state of affair and shows why blame game doesn’t amount to concrete action where Kasab and consorts were given a free rein. The lack of ambulance to ferry Salaskar or the missing jacket of Hemant Karkare raises questions that we haven’t been able to answer even nine years later. Headley, of course, is the missing link in one of the biggest terror attack considering that he was under surveillance for a year before the heinous crime that shook Mumbai and the why of the information that was failed to be passed to New Delhi by the FBI.
The disturbing scenes when Barkha Dutt reported 26/11 in front of Taj Hotel disappointed me for I felt she was swayed by the rhetoric mantra to garner TRP. I am glad that she addressed the concerns of citizens and critics, alike. It was disturbing to see my favorite journalist hitting the wrong nail. There was a middle-class malaise that perpetuated since Mumbai was pretty much about us and was the first time this specific class complained about the scheme of things. Perhaps, the media wasn’t doing enough to give the people a voice. How I wished she spoke in a more expansive voice on what went wrong with the media on this day. The graphic of violence is something the urban community wanted to avoid and I agree with her. It disturbs but reflects reality.
Poverty, women, and liberalization
If statistics could speak, we should have hung our head in shame when seven out of ten households in India remain rural and live on less than Rs 200 a day. I think it is a human tragedy when we cannot fight poverty and let people die of hunger at a time we are speaking about Make in India campaign or furthering so-called development agenda in our quest to become a super economic power.
It hurts us as a country when a Pawan Malviya is stone pelted for taking his baraat on a horse. His only crime is being born a Dalit. Or, Maya Gautam shunned even by beggars and considered to be filthier than the washroom she mops. It’s a social malaise in an age of modernism which is not solely restricted to Dalits. We cannot talk about growth or aspirations when half of the children in villages are dying due to malnutrition. The stats in the book never lie: 1.4 million children die before they turn 5. Let’s not speak about India Shining. The food stock that gets lost or is pilfered and the remote distance to be covered to visit a doctor when the poor Kesar dies on his way should concern everyone, from the media to the policymakers, corporate and civil society. It’s a criminal act. The poor boy’s nutrition was rabri made on atta chakki, ground maize thinned with water to last longer. No, a child cannot afford milk and his death is blame on fever.
We live in an ugly patriarchal world. The author taps into an important issue facing women the Triple Talaq where women up against it for a fair and just society were at the receiving end. It’s something that the author spoke at length in the book on women fighting against it who were scorned upon and just now the cabinet cleared the bill to make it a criminal offense. The debate surrounding Uniform Civil Code for India makes for an interesting perspective on how the odds are stacked against gender equality. Triple Talaq or not, the prejudice that woman suffers remain in our society.
Unfortunately, like the author stresses out, India is still defined by cultural incongruities and the fight for women rights unrestricted to India remains the biggest battle. Like Indra Nooyi the CEO of Pepsi Co once said, ‘No women can’t have it all’, it is something that should push us to reflect on one of the most important rights for women which legitimately belong to them. Freedom cannot be traded or compromised.
Barkha Dutt’s hits the right nail when she says the global rights of women that contains sexual violence and gender equality shouldn’t be treated as a marginal issue. “Feminism is about freedom.’ She calls for parity at home but at the same time, the sexy ads with taglines, Superman, and Superwoman which are deemed by many of us as unfair balance mounted against women. How do we change our attitudes against women?’ remain the larger questions that call for a passionate debate much beyond social roles at home.
Of course, India is plagued by sexual violence with the rape of Jyoti Singh christened Nirbhaya or innocent children brutally raped push to ponder what has changed after the mass protest in Delhi. We continue to blame the victims but never the perpetrator. The author touches something personal when she faced an attempted sexual violence and the hypocrisy in the faculty telling her to be ‘practical’ in an age where the Vishakha Guideline was non-existent.
The chapter on ‘The Place of Women’ is treated with sensitivity for us to explore the issue in its entirety. There is not a woman who has been spared be it physical violence or groped in public. We cannot remain as passive spectators and this chapter in the book provides fodder to us all on where to start and tackle the issue from its roots.
Politics, rise of Modi, Moditva agenda and media relationship
Indian politics witnessed the frenzy of the Modi wave who thundered a massive election victory in 2014 that created history. It is important to go back to 2013 when the anointment of Narendra Modi as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate was met with opposition in the form of Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj or Advani. The power of balance was shifted within the BJP ranks and Dutt rightly drew a contrast when Rajnath Singh wore a skull cap offered by a Muslim leader when Modi refused. It was the start of Moditva agenda that shifted the power balance with the original Hindutva mascot L K Advani bowing out.
The relationship between RSS and Modi is an important facet that Barkha Dutt explored in the book with the meteoric rises of the BJP and voted swing in favor of the PM as RSS mascot. At the same time, pertinent questions are raised on the silence of the PM where provocative statements are made by his ministers, often lingering on insanity sapping the secular fabric of India as a nation. Dutt’s attempts to find an answer to that but it remains largely open to debate.
I think when we speak about the rise of Modi as PM, it is important to assess how Rahul Gandhi always makes the wrong comment at the right or wrong time. He is a personality that intrigues me. Dutt emphasized at Gandhi’s technicality, a rare trait that never makes leaders or wins elections fought at the grass root level.
4. Caste syndrome, rise of Hindu mob and dark era in history
Unfortunately, our rich history as a country also bears testimony to a painful past with the Gujarat riots, Janbhoomi issue or Ayodhya or riots that claimed the lives of Sikhs after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Ugly politics were played both by the BJP and Congress over human lives at some point or the other in Indian history. We faced the darkest period in our history where bodies were charred and splattered where no FIR was filed and grisly murder or rape of minority women post Godhra. The chanting of Jai Bajrang Dal in the 2000s presaged the rise of Hindu mob in today’s times and mass conversion where humans are stripped of human dignity. It sends us a chill down the spine where rape victims were ostracized in the name of religion and politics.
It can be argued with legitimate reason that today’s triumph of the BJP has a lot to do with the destruction of the Babri Mosque. It led to the rise of the fringe elements and Hindu Mob who would not stop at anything. The Congress played the secularism card shamelessly as a political tool and case in point is the banning of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses or the Shah Bano case.
The topic of mass conversion makes us wonder on its relevance in modern India and the place it occupies with the proselytization of Muslims and Christians’ place of worship. The author raises pertinent questions on the issues where rather than empowering the poor, conversions is used as a false argument to damage the country’s secular fabric.
I feel a shudder down the spine when the author unveils the stark reality behind the curtain during the Tsunami that struck the country where the class syndrome of the rich and blurred cast lines serves as a reminder on how the Dalit community battered to death would get food only after being distributed to high caste fishermen. It is a chilling account that should incense us as humans. There was silence on the part of the high-class which reveals apathy. Barkha Dutt shares how she received a call or a complaint, “Do we really have to watch this depressing stuff on television right now?” It reveals a malaise in our society on the high-class entitlement or their sense of justice.
The fourth estate is a watchdog of democracy and the brutal assault or murder of journalists doesn’t augur well for our society. Time to stop this rhubarb by calling honest journalists as prostitutes or Lutyens for they often take huge risks at the cost of their lives. It’s one of the issues that I have with people labeling journalist with all kind of names, ‘presstitutes’ which showcases the prejudice we suffer as passive victims that turns into an overt aggressor.
Barkha Dutt’s This Unquiet Land offers a first-hand account in the valley of Jammu and Kashmir that serves as an eye-opener on the misfortune and pain endured by the people. A chronicle of pain, corpses, coffins and the valor of men in uniform or the disappearance of a family member or bullets pumped in children or innocent women which sadly doesn’t make the cut in the global media dehumanizes us. One is tempted to ask, ‘Are they children of lesser Gods or humans?’ No candle lit or marches of solidarity but yet Kashmir Chronicles hit us hard on the face.
Barkha Dutt’s The Unquiet Land is a holy book that should find its way in schools of journalism and the various issues should be discussed as case study. A book which doesn’t limit itself to the nitty-gritty of the author’s profession but serves as fodder be it in the way India has evolved over the years from a self-sufficient to a society of mass consumption. Right from foreign cars being a rarity, including Dutt’s ‘Benzy’ in the 80s to mobile India with Americanized food chains or single hall cinemas, the great divide between the rich and ‘chavanni’ ushering into multiplex, we are a country at the crossroad. Perhaps, there are lots of confusing as we battle an identity crisis, past achievements, and struggles. Or else, how do we explain the grisly murder of a Mohamed Aqlaf? Do we suffer from class inferiority forever ingrained in religion? There are questions that we perhaps should leave open-ended.
This Unquiet Land is not a book but a journey in the life of a country. It’s India. The author doesn’t content herself to give just a peek but a rare insight into our identity and issues that never cease to prod us to discuss and reflect. If you want to study the country in its form and our knee-jerk reasoning often verging on the theory of irrationality, Barkha Dutt’s This Unquiet Land offers a subtle beginning and good base. A must read which no Indian or international observer can afford to stay away from.