In Conversation with Sanam Maher: Author of The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch

Sanam Maher gets candid about what prompted her to write, the difficulties she faced and what it’s like being a writer.

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I read Sanam Maher’s debut novel, The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, back in May, and devoured the book within 2 days. The author’s crisp, and intelligent writing coupled with unsettling yet relevant account of the murder of the social media star, Qandeel Baloch not only made a huge impact on me but it also prompted me to delve further into the writer’s psych and have a few questions that were lingering in my mind, answered. Sanam is one of the nicest person to talk to and if you’re not following her hilarious IG stories, what are you even doing with your time?

To know more about the book, click here: The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Meher: A fierce and bold account in non-fiction.

Interview:

  • Qandeel had already created ripples through her online media presence, and had always been on the radar. What did you think of her back then?

Before I started freelancing and then working on this book full time, I worked as in a newsroom at a daily paper in Karachi. The first time I heard about Qandeel was in that newsroom, when a couple of guys who worked at the desk with me were talking about her viral “How I’m looking?” video. I looked her up and the little that I did see led me to want to do a story – I thought the piece would look at how young women are using platforms like Facebook and Instagram to push the envelope on how they can dress, speak or present themselves in Pakistan. I’ve long maintained a fascination with what we as Pakistanis do on social media and I thought Qandeel would be a great person to focus on for a piece exploring this. I would see Qandeel’s videos or photos whenever someone I knew would share them on Facebook, and then when it became popular to imitate her in DubSmash videos, but my piece was never written, lost somewhere between deadlines and switching jobs. The idea stayed with me, and I told myself I’d have time to do it later, to meet Qandeel later and to find others like her.

 

  • How did writing a book on Qandeel come to you?

In July 2016, I remember staring at the television the day news of Qandeel’s murder broke, and feeling stunned. I didn’t want to let go of her story once again. The idea of this woman who had managed to fool all of us – her audience and the media – and who had created this persona that we had bought into wholesale took root. I admired her gumption and the courage it must have taken to create the persona that she did.

Then, in the hours and days after, it was terrible to see the reactions online from many Pakistanis who were very happy that she had been “punished” for behaving the way that she did. I saw acquaintances in my own social media feeds having arguments about whether what had happened was right or wrong, whether Qandeel “deserved” what had been done to her. “Offline”, many of the men and women I knew were condemning Qandeel’s death but then, in the next breath, following their statements with “… but if you think about it…”

It was a moment when I was seeing friends and family members draw a line and very firmly position themselves on either side, and I think the last time I’d seen something like that happen – a moment that calls for definition or clarity on the question of how we see ourselves as Pakistanis and what we hope for or believe we deserve – was when Salmaan Taseer was shot and killed in 2011. The reactions to Qandeel’s murder have revealed two very different answers to the question of what it means to be Pakistani, and more crucially, what it means to be a woman living in Pakistan today. I wanted to tell a story not just about Qandeel, but about that moment and that definition. I knew that this book wasn’t just about Qandeel, but about the kind of place that enabled her to become who she did, and the place that ultimately found that it could not tolerate her.

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  • What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

One of the very first hurdles I faced was that I felt handicapped by never having met Qandeel. It was the first time I’d had to report on someone I had never spoken with, with whom I could not verify a single detail of anything I was learning about them. Try and think of your own life – imagine a reporter trying to find out everything they can about you. Who do you trust to tell your story? We show different facets of our personality to different people, and Qandeel was a chameleon. I had this trove of photographs and videos and interviews of this person, but at the end of the day, every appearance, video, interview, tweet or Facebook post was her in character.

With every new piece of information I received about her, I would feel, “Yes, this is it, I understand her now”, only to learn something else and be utterly confounded again. Everything I was learning about Qandeel in the interviews I did was secondhand information, and then there was the added problem of this information having been repeated so many times – particularly when it came to the principal “characters” in her life, such as her manager Mec or her parents – as they had been interviewed so many times, and continued to be, for news stories or documentaries on Qandeel. Qandeel passed away in July, and I started meeting these people two months later. By then, they almost seemed to follow a script each time for what they wanted to say. Their information was now coloured by feelings of grief or guilt or wanting to come across a certain way in media coverage, or understanding that certain things they said would help them stay in the limelight and keep the media interested in the story.

With all the news reports, gossip, TV shows and documentaries, I think many of us feel we already know Qandeel’s story – it was difficult to figure out a way to tell a story that people feel they already know, but ultimately, I realised just how little I myself actually knew, even after poring over every piece of information I could find out about her before I travelled to Punjab and started my own research and interviews. What we know so far has been coloured by the media frenzy around Qandeel’s murder.

 

  • You mentioned being stuck after your first week in Multan as the information about Qandeel was more or less scripted. How did you filter facts from gossip and hearsay?

Before I went to Multan, I had read and seen anything that had been put out on Qandeel and her murder. I believed I knew what had happened and I went to Multan with a plan to report on what I thought was a neatly aligned story. I was so completely confounded because most of the stuff I was encountering or hearing wasn’t being covered in whatever I’d seen and read so far. And yet, everyone I met was convinced that they knew ‘the Qandeel story’. I don’t want to be a part of that, and ultimately, I decided that I would use all the inconsistencies and lingering questions, the gossip and hearsay, to force readers to question their understanding of Qandeel and whatever she did. Its very easy to judge her and feel like you have her pinned down, but what if all you know about her was challenged? Throughout the book, I’ve included the little fibs that Qandeel told about herself, stories that sources told me that I knew were filtered memories and probably largely untrue or designed to make themselves look a certain way. This was my attempt to make the readers feel doubtful, and just when the reader feels as if they have finally “gotten” Qandeel, I wanted them to receive new information that made it all feel questionable. That was certainly my experience of researching this story.

 

  • ‘Not everyone seeks fame. Sometimes fame–the kind some people spend their entire lives courting, finds you.’ Do you think Arshad Khan, to whom fame arrived on a silver platter albeit unwanted was largely exploited by it?

When looking at Qandeel’s fame as a viral star, I began to think about how my generation of Pakistanis has been connected to the world like never before – what are we doing in the public spaces we are finding online? What does it mean to go viral in Pakistan? How are we building communities online in order to speak in ways that we may not be able to “offline”? What happens when we behave in a way online that seems to break the rules of how we are supposed to behave, particularly as women, “in the real world”? Something important that Qandeel’s story shows us about the ways in which we engage with social media is the constant trickle of information from online spaces into the greater public sphere – conversations and movements online are discussed on talk shows and in the news and so even if you aren’t on social media, you’re probably still going to receive information being spread there. What effect does that have?

In exploring these ideas, I met with Arshad Khan aka the Chaiwallah, as well as the men and women who are trying to patrol our activities online and monitor and censor us, and others who are determined to keep us safer and more vocal online – particularly in the case of women and marginalized or minority communities. Qandeel’s social media activity also gave me a way to talk about how we might be connected to a global space of ideas and possibilities online, but we’re still very much grounded in the society and culture we live in here in Pakistan, and through her story and some of the other stories in the book, you see the terrible ramifications that a clash between the two can have. I think with someone like Arshad, or even with Qandeel, when you’re dealing with an audience that is difficult to keep entertained, an audience that has an attention deficit and has so many competing avenues of entertainment, you have to figure out ways to keep upping the ante and giving the audience the next new thing, the next scandal, the next piece of gossip. Once someone like Arshad is thrust into a completely new world and that world loses interest in him, what happens to him? He may no longer belong to his old life, and he may no longer be interesting to people from his new life once the novelty of “the Chaiwallah” wears off – so what happens to someone who is caught in the grey space in the middle? That’s what I was keen to look at with viral stars like Arshad.

  • During research, did you approach the book as a journalist or a writer?

I still find it hard to think of myself as “a writer” or “an author”! This was definitely a work of journalism, albeit much longer and more complex than any other story I’d worked on – I’d never worked on a crime story, never had to deal with so many stories and figure out a way to pull it all together so it was cohesive. I think I approached it more as a reader, constantly asking myself what I would want to read and know about with this story, what could it tell me or reveal to me. I’d read and re-read bits of writing over and over again out loud in order to hear if it was too dense, if it wasn’t fast paced enough. I needed something that any reader here would find easy to get into and wouldn’t want to put down and get back onto Instagram again.

  • Do you read reviews of your books? How do you deal with them?

This is my first book, and initially I told myself I wouldn’t read reviews because I was so nervous about what they would say. Obviously I didn’t stick to that rule. I’ve had such a great time getting mini-reviews and feedback from people who follow me on social media, especially Instagram, that that helped me feel a lot less nervous and able to hear any criticism or critical points that I might see elsewhere. So far though the reviews have been very good.

  • What has been one of your most rewarding experience as an author?

Hearing from people who are buying the book not just for themselves but for their mothers or friends or siblings. Getting messages from strangers about how they really loved it, they understood what I was trying to do and they raced through the book because they couldn’t put it down. There’s nothing more gratifying than to hear that a reader lost themselves in your work, especially because I know how easy it is to ditch a book in favor of going online or scrolling through your social media feed.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I get asked this question a lot, especially from aspiring writers and journalists on Instagram. For me the most crucial thing, and its so basic, is to read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Definitely read one newspaper a day – its free if you go online, you don’t even have to pay for the physical thing – and read every section, including the pages you don’t care about (one of my favourite stories that I worked on came from a small news item in the sports pages). Don’t worry too much if you haven’t read “the canon” or “the greats”. There have been many times when I’ve said this to people who message me and I get replies about “but I get bored” or “but I don’t like reading the news” or “the news is boring” and most memorably one time, “This seems like a lot of work.” There really isn’t a shortcut unless you’re a literary genius. When you don’t feel like reading, watch things that are beautifully made, listen to a podcast or an audio book, but constantly train your brain to think a certain way, to hear well crafted sentences, to hear how conversations can be written. Its like a muscle that you have to just keep strengthening.

  • Lastly, if your novel was being made into a movie, whom would you pick to play the lead roles?

You might actually hear some news about this very soon from me! So I won’t spoil it or jinx it.

 

 

*Image Credit: Shehrezad Maher 

What it’s like working in a publishing house: My Internship experience

Is working in a publishing house worth it?

I got a call from Orient Blackswan 3 months before my internship date and was offered a general internship which meant I would be working under all departments. I have been a reader and book blogger since quite a few years now, and have been wanting to get into the publishing field. Getting a call for an internship was definitely one of the highlights of my year, and as I waited for November to arrive, there were several thoughts running through my mind. See, when you’re finally getting to do something you’re passionate about, there’s always two outcomes; you either realize  this is what you’re meant to do or you’re hit by a  gut wrenching feeling that your dream wasn’t really yours to begin with. I can safely say it was the former for me.

On my first day, I was handed a schedule which gave me an idea of the number of days I’d be working in each department. I think that kind of set the tone for me because it helped me mentally prepare myself.  Now, I’m going to give you a detailed account of what I did in each department, and what I learnt from it. This is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of tea, relax and keep reading.  (The department’s are mentioned in no particular order so whichever dept appeals to you the most just head on to it).

  • ADMINISTRATION:
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

When you’re about to start an internship you’ve been dreaming about, the nerves run high. Naturally, I was shitting bricks but at the same time had the energy of 50 toddlers combined (don’t ask me how I know this). My first day was spent understanding the workings of the Administration dept. They’re responsible for ensuring the smooth functioning of the organization whilst tending to individual needs. To be honest, I didn’t do much on this particular day except lounge around and read books. You thought I wouldn’t exploit the fact that I was surrounded by books 24/7?

  • EDITORIAL
  • DURATION: 11 DAYS

Being a book editor has been a lifelong dream, and I had been dying (okay, exaggeration) to work under the Editorial department. It was everything I had imagined and a little bit more. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by extremely talented, kind and energetic people who made the entire experience worthwhile. I spent most of my days laughing with the editorial team (who by the way are amazing, haven’t I already mentioned it?), while at the same time learning a lot about the process of editing. I remember leaving the office at the stipulated time with the editorial team still working relentlessly. They would often work over time and still clock in the next day without being late.

When it comes to publishing houses who publish academic books such OBS,  the editorial department is divided into schools, Higher Academics (HS) and Social Sciences (Fiction and non-fiction books for colleges and general reading).

Schools: While working under the ELT department, I was introduced to novel concepts in the field of publishing. From deciding the content of the children’s text books to putting text-appropriate illustrations, and making smart-books, there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I think I started questioning my ability as a writer and reader, when I had to write summaries of poems for standard 6. It was a nightmare. I mean, I am not the kind who likes poems leave alone understand them and write a detailed explanation of why the clouds were black and not blue. But I really had no choice but to pen down everything I could decipher.

Since technology is being introduced in education, and in the classroom setup, school books are now accompanied by presentations on various topics. The idea here was to make picture galleries for each topic to enable better understanding for the students. I made a number of presentations, which was so damn hard because you have to get into the details of each chapter and find an illustration that’s not only appropriate but is also copy-righted. I think towards the end, I almost lost my mind. But it was something I had not anticipated, and it definitely gave an insight into the editing department.

Social Sciences (HA):  On my first day with the social sciences department, I was handed an Editor’s manual along with Chicago Manual of Style and Judith Butcher’s Copy-editing Manual by my mentor. I was to read through the manuals, understand and comprehend how a manuscript is proofread, how it is copy-edited and the various stages of editing. Being able to study the techniques and processes involved in editing was a surreal moment. I was lucky to have a mentor whose insights about the publishing industry were invaluable to me. Not only did she constantly encourage me to improve myself, she also cleared a number of concepts I was confused about.
I was given a number of typed-pages to proofread and copy-edit. I also learnt how referencing is done in a book and how they differ if it’s a novel, journal or a magazine. During the second day in this department, I was asked to write a blurb for the book, “Field of Sports”. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. After reading the book thoroughly and understanding what the book was offering, I wrote the blurb which was approved by my mentor. I also spilled a cup of coffee very elegantly on my work table, thereby displaying my competency in clumsiness and inability in settling into the adult life.

Not just this, AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART,  I had the opportunity of proofreading a manuscript, ‘Agnipariksha’ which is now a published book. When I was asked to proofread it, I could hear music playing in the background while a cool, soft breeze was flowing through my hair, and in that moment I knew I had found true love. It was really romantic.

P.S: If you’re interested you can read the review of Agnipariksha here: Agnipariksha by Hamid Kureshi: Translated by Rita Kothari

  • STOCKS & SERVICING:
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

Okay, so here I got to visit the warehouse, and it’s everything dreams are made of. Now stocks and servicing can get a little tricky so try to stay with me.

This department keeps a detailed account of the number of books that come in and are sent out for delivery.  I was explained how the books are maintained in the warehouse. Keeping a track of thousands of books is not easy. Therefore, every order that comes in is put into the system. An invoice is prepared against an order and all the details are stored in the office computer. A copy of the same is sent to the customer. After the orders are received, the books are prepared to be sent to the destined location. They have to be packed and wrapped carefully lest they’re destroyed in transit. The mode of transport depends on the kind of order. If it’s a bulk order, then the books are delivered through Lorry or Railways.
When the consignment is released, the physical stock is checked as per IBSTI. If the stock has been returned, they are tallied against their ISBN number, price tag, titles and the number of copies being returned. The unsold books are sent for pulping in order to make room for new stock. During book launches, events, workshops or seminars, the books are provided by this department after signing the requisition form.
I KNOW, RIGHT? Half of the things went tangent over my head, too. But it’s okay. While I was there, and when I wasn’t staring at all the books, I asked a LOT of questions and most of them were very stupid but heyyy that’s how we learn, don’t we?

  • PRODUCTION
  • DURATION: 2 DAYS

The production department, as I learnt, entails a lot of responsibilities. My mentor was extremely kind to give an in-depth overview of how production in a publishing house takes place. This department is responsible for the design, layout, printing, and for e-book coding of the finished book. It was interesting to learn the various paper-sizes and their names, the multiple book sizes now used in the publishing industry and how there has been a huge transition in the method of printing. The production department has to print books that are not only cost-effective but also high in quality.
I learnt how to choose the correct paper size of a book, along with understanding how to measure the book size.

Not going to lie, I was unaware of the technical aspects when it came to publishing a book. I never bothered finding out HOW a book is published, and it was extremely informative.

  • MARKETING
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

Starting with the marketing strategies for individual books, my mentor explained how the books were promoted in the general market, in this case schools. Marketing touches all aspects of publishing and book selling. This department develops creative marketing campaigns which include conducting workshops, seminars, book launches and bookstore displays.
My task was to create a list of the number of activities in math books (class 5, 6, 7 and 8) and create a power point presentation on how best to market and promote the upcoming Magnolia English Reader Series. During this time, I learnt how important it was for the marketing team to be creative, think ahead of time and be ready to come with new ideas to market their books.

  • SALES:
  • DURATION: 7 DAYS

Sales department sucked all the energy out of me because it is HARD-WORK. It is the responsibility of the sales department to get the book in the hands of booksellers, other retailers and mainly the target customers. From there, the book goes on to be sold to the customer.
I learnt the various stages of sales; pitching to target customers, distribution of the books and Recovery of sales and meeting the yearly target. For this the sales team has to do a lot of field work and remain in close contact with potential customers (here, colleges, and schools).
I visited approximately 9 schools, and the idea was to pitch all the new releases to the principal. It was exhausting, and involved a lot of travelling and waiting. But again, I would have never imagined the amount of effort it goes into spreading word of mouth about books.

 

 

After I had successfully worked under all departments, I was required to make a report on my experience and the work I did each day. I didn’t want to leave but as they say all good things come to an end. I said my goodbyes and left with a huge smile on my face because I was a happy little bunny who got to live her dream even though it was for short while.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my short span of working in the professional field, it’s that you HAVE to do what you like to do even if it’s not in your full capacity. I understand the restraints life brings but even if you spend an hour of your day doing what you’re passionate about, the chances of you being closer to your dream will increase, and in a world where happiness is so scarce who wouldn’t want to grab that tiny amount of immense joy and hold onto it, right?

 

The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Meher: A fierce and bold account in non-fiction.

A new voice in the world of non-fiction, Sanam Maher, tackles themes of honor, violence and fame.

She rose to fame through her videos posted on various social media, often termed as vile, vulgar, and unislamic by those who kept a vigil at the online activities of anyone who didn’t conform. Qandeel Baloch soon started garnering a lot of attention, both nationally and internationally, and she was hated as much as admired for her courage to defy norms, and do what she pleased. Having been on the receiving end of exhaustive threats, and abuses, Qandeel feared for her life. She felt scared. She knew she didn’t have any support, and that her life would end. But no one knew it would be so soon.

In July 2016, Qandeel Baloch, Pakistan’s celebrity by social media was found dead in her house. Her brother, Mohammed Waseem, shamed by her ‘online presence’, and the attention she was getting, strangled her in their family home. He feels no remorse, no sorrow. He believes he has restored his family’s reputation and image. He smiles at the cameras while being interviewed,  often openly bragging about his murder scheme, not letting anyone take credit for his master-plan.  On being asked if he was ashamed, he remarks,’ No. I have no shame. I am Baloch.’  Qandeel’s parents, shocked and horrified, accused their sons of conspiring to murder their daughter and lodged an FIR.

The entire nation of Pakistan was suddenly turned upside down. Qandeel’s death sent shock waves across the country, and there was huge uproar against the bleak legislation that allowed the accused to roam freely after confessing to the murders, and their crime being waived off or forgiven by relatives of the suspect, mostly by accepting blood money as compensation. 6 days after Qandeel’s death the Anti-Honor Killing Bill was drafted and it was adopted unanimously by the Parliament within 3 months. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2016 ensured life imprisonment as mandatory, unless a judge decided otherwise.

Sanam Maher’s bold account of life in a country which is deeply conservative of its beliefs, and values, and where a woman is not deemed worthy of living a life at her own accord is moving and powerful. Women have long been ostracized, pulled down, and threatened whenever they refuse to conform to a pre-existing patriarchal notion. Through a series of extensive research and interviews with aspiring models, activists, lawyers, police officers, journalists— Maher, has given a detailed narrative of Qandeel’s life. The author’s words flow seamlessly, and her ability to weave facts into a story has been brilliantly displayed.  Sanam’s efforts are commendable, her investigative journalism coupled with her ability as a writer make this debut novel unforgettable. The author’s work has appeared in Al Jazeera, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, to name a few.  Her honest attempt at exposing the hypocrisy and deep-rooted patriarchy, have opened gates for reflection, and debate, of a society whose morals are laced with blind-faith and dogmas, and hate for those who dare to defy.

The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch is book that must be read.


Author: Sanam Maher

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Rating: 4.8/5

Genre: Non-fiction

Pages: 224

Blurb:

Bold’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Siren’ were just some of the (kinder) words used to describe Qandeel Baloch. She embraced these labels and played the coquette, yet dished out biting critiques of some of Pakistan’s most holy cows. Pakistanis snickered at her fake American accent, but marvelled at her gumption. She was the stuff of a hundred memes and Pakistan’s first celebrity-by-social media.
Qandeel first captured the nation’s attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst. But it was in February 2016, when she uploaded a Facebook video mocking a presidential ‘warning’ not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, that she went ‘viral’. In the video, which racked up nearly a million views, she lies in bed, in a low-cut red dress, and says in broken English, ‘They can stop to people go out…but they can’t stop to people love.’ The video shows us everything that Pakistanis loved—and loved to hate—about Qandeel, ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’. Five months later, she would be dead. In July 2016, Qandeel’s brother would strangle her in their family home, in what was described as an ‘honour killing’—a punishment for the ‘shame’ her online behaviour had brought to the family.
Scores of young women and men are killed in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. Many cases are never reported, and of the ones that are, murderers are often ‘forgiven’ by the surviving family members and do not face charges. However, just six days after Qandeel’s death, the Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill was fast-tracked in parliament, and in October 2016, the loophole allowing families to pardon perpetrators of ‘honour killings’ was closed. What spurred the change? Was it the murder of Qandeel Baloch? And how did she come to represent the clash between rigid conservatism and a secular, liberal vision for Pakistan? Through dozens of interviews—with aspiring models, managers, university students, activists, lawyers, police officers and journalists, among them—Sanam Maher gives us a portrait of a woman and a nation.

 

You Can Achieve More by Shiv Khera

A self-help book on how to live your life by design and not by default.

Shiv Khera’s latest book You Can Achieve More is a self help book that aims at encouraging the potential within you, and to create a life for yourself instead of being a victim of your circumstances. Mr.Khera is not just an author but an Educator, motivational speaker, entrepreneur and Business consultant. His idea of living a successful life is,”Winners don’t do different things. They do things differently”. His book You Can Win sold over a million copies in 21 languages.

You Can Achieve More is a guide on how to take responsibility for your actions, plan and organize your life. It is about evaluating the bad, and appreciating the good. At the end of every chapter, the author has posed several questions to its readers that help them introspect about their behavior, and life. It’s an action plan aimed at a deeper understanding of oneself.  It is more of a self-realization technique that propels individuals to ponder over past situations, and self-evaluate. The questions are well-thought and often point out things one would have otherwise missed. In one of the chapters, the author talks about internal validation. In a world where we live off of facebook comments and instagram likes, it’s important to understand the need to be whole by yourself without an external validation.

However, the book appeared too preachy. Most of the quotes used have become redundant or are no longer applicable. The author’s intentions are very clear but he offers no practical advise on how to live a life by design and not by default.


Author: Shiv Khera

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Rating: 3/5

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Blurb:

A person with a positive attitude cannot be stopped and a person with a negative
attitude cannot be helped. Both success and failure have a limited lifespan. Success
is neither a miracle nor a mystery. It does not depend upon special skills, formal
education or superior intelligence. It is the natural outcome of consistently applying
certain principles on an ongoing basis. The ultimate goal is to sustain success and
eliminate failure.

Acquiring facts is knowledge, understanding facts is comprehension, and the proper
application of facts is wisdom. The principles in this book can help you to:

1. Live by design, not by default
2. Gain confidence and optimize your potential
3. Become proactive and develop a winning attitude
4. Balance your health, wealth and relationships
5. Overcome day-to-day problems and make better decisions
6. Make positive choices and avoid pitfalls

The secret to a meaningful life is in your hands. Through inspiring ideas
and basic values, this book will help empower you to Achieve More and
become unstoppable.

 

 

The Aryabhata Clan by Sudipto Das

Delving deep into the past while concurrently dealing with the present.

The Aryabhata Clan by Sudipto Das is his second mystery novel after The Ekkos Clan, and it gives off a rather Dan Brown-ish feel. Sudipto’s thorough and meticulous research on ancient Indian history coupled with facts and statistics about our history some 1500 years ago are testimony to his great storytelling techniques. The author’s ability to dive deep into the meanings, and produce coherent content from every theme is commendable.

The book has various themes, and deals with a lot of topics that look intimidating at first but eventually start making sense. There’s the Islamic fundamentals who have terrorized the nation, poisoning into the country’s media and academics headed by the mastermind Shamsur Ali, ex-professor of physics at the Dhaka University and former president of the Bangladeshi Academy of Science, who aims to bring about an apocalypse. There are 1000 year old carpets with mysterious motifs, and symbols, manuscripts that are as old as time written in the Prakriti language, with cryptic messages, and at the heart of the book is a verse composed by the mathematician himself; Aryabhata. Not just this, the author has also narrated a fine blend of Indian culture and languages.

Our protagonist, Kubha, a brave and courageous 20 year old, undergoes horrible circumstances to protect her nation from an impending disaster and for the preservation of a beautiful monument. We have her mother, Asifa, a linguistic paleontologist, her grandfather, Faraz, maker of carpets with mysterious motives who was murdered suddenly.

Although I enjoyed reading the book, the information was too much for me to grasp. I was expecting it to be more fast-paced, and quick. Since the book deals with a LOT of topics at the same time, it became dry in some parts. Given the nature of the book, I understand that the technical terms were a necessity. It is an unconventional book; but if you get the hang of it, you will enjoy the read.

The Aryabhata Clan is a richly researched book; spanning across continents, ages, and cultures which emphasis on linguistics, philosophy, Indian history and archaeology. It has a murder or maybe 3, and a protagonist you will admire.


Author: Sudipto Das

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Pages: 468

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Rating: 3.8

Format: Paperback

Source: Review Copy

Blurb:

The Islamic State has spread its tentacles in India, penetrating stealthily into the academia, media and politics. The mastermind is Shamsur Ali, a physicist from Bangladesh. To destabilize India, he wants to create a sort of apocalypse, which the 21-year-old Kubha must prevent at any cost, come what may.

In a brazen attempt at legitimizing the demolition of one of the most prominent historical structures in India, someone – unbelievably, it could be both Hiranyagarbha Bharata, a radical Hindu outfit, and the Islamic State – resorts to a big deceit. Afsar Fareedi, a linguistic paleontologist, catches the fraud. In the melee, there are three gruesome murders, including that of her father, perhaps to eliminate all traces of a carpet which, Afsar discovers, has a lot hidden in its mysterious motifs. At the centre of all this is a verse composed by the maverick mathematician, Aryabhata, some 1,500 years ago.

Solitude and Other Obsessions: A Collection of poems

A collection of 73 poems written by five different authors.

I have been staying away from poetry from quite sometime now mainly because the idea of ‘poetry’ seems to be lost. With social media being the new ‘book’, our means of communication is rather short-lived. We’re always racing against time and if something takes up more than 2 minutes of your time then it’s not worth it. Modern poetry has been receiving a lot of criticism lately but I’ll delve into that in another blog post.

Solitude and Other Obsessions is a collection of poems by 5 different poets. Each poet has expressed their emotions through their unique style of writing and from, covering several themes. Uma Sudhindra, Binod Panda, Trupti Kalamdani, Dr.Shruti Arabatti and Saurin desai are the poets who have contributed in the compilation of 73 poems for this book. The title of the book is self-explanatory. It talks of solitude, and how humans have been coping up with it since time immemorial and how it shapes our personality, instills passion or crumbles our very existence.

Some of the poems are accompanied with an illustration done by the artist Shripad Bhalerao who believes humans are the most complex creatures in the universe, and who tries to decode this very belief by finding a connection between his paintings, writings, and sculpting. His art pieces are vivid, often oscillating between the real and the imaginary.

The beauty of poetry is in its subjectivity. Each poem resonates and holds a deep meaning in our lives. Some give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, others make you feel the pain. This collection of poems is a great read for people who are new to the world of poetry, and who wish to get an essence of what poetry does to the heart and mind.


Authors: Uma Sudhindra, Binod Panda, Trupti Kalamdani, Dr.Shruti Arabatti and Saurin desai

Publisher: NotionPress

Rating: 3.5

Pages: 112

Format: Paperback

Source: Review Copy

Blurb:

We are a species fueled by obsessions. Every human achievement, and every infamy, is the result of an obsession that tormented, possessed and consumed. This is a selection of poetry about solitude and other obsessions that have distracted, driven, destroyed and / or defined us. Spanning genres, styles, emotions, time & place, these works by a collective of 5 poets are a glimpse into the obsessions that have become us

Agnipariksha by Hamid Kureshi: Translated by Rita Kothari

A memoir of trauma and hope set against the 1969 riots of Ahmedabad.

Senior advocate and trustee of Sabarmati Ashram and Preservation Memorial Trust, Hamid Kureshi, penned down a detailed account of his life during the 1969 Gujarat riots. Hamid Kureshi’s Agnipariksha is a testimony to how in times of despair and adversity, kindness, unity and companionship surpass every ordeal; how it is human nature to rise after every fall, to see the light amidst darkness. The 1969 Gujarat riots are witnessed once again through the eyes of Kureshi’s personal account spanning over a period of five to seven days. The book, narrated in first person, describes the monstrosity and cruelty subjected by a section of society on to the other. Despite the rage, anger and hatred surrounding the atmosphere in the riot inflicted Gujarat; Kureshi’s personal story incites no violence or fury rather a sense of belongingness and sensitivity amongst the Hindu brothers and sisters.  As Narayan Desai writes in the preface for this book, ‘HamidBhai has presented his experiences with great restraint and yet managed to highlight acts of sensitivity and compassion in the midst of rage, hatred and suffering. This story of humanity is a welcome addition to humanitarian literature.’

The year is 1969, and Hamid Kureshi is on his way to the High Court. Little does he know that a seemingly normal day would soon turn catastrophic in the days to come. Being married to a Hindu, Hamid lived a secular life. Believing in the goodness of humanity, the communal riots that led to assaults on his mental as well as physical self left an indelible scar. For the first time, he was seen not as a lawyer or a contributing law abiding citizen of the society but as a Muslim; a target. The anger and hatred towards a minority of the society took away the last shred of hope from him.

The ideological principles governing Hamid reflect his Gandhian principles of love over hatred and peace over war. Growing up during India’s struggle for freedom, his participation in the Quit India Movement followed by imprisonment turned Hamid into an ardent believer of the Gandhian principles. His grandfather, Imam Abdul Kadir Bawazeer, was a close companion of Gandhi and was called ‘Sahodar’ by him as a term of endearment. After the death of Imam Saheb, a house was built in the precincts of Gandhi’s Ashram, which came to be known as Imam Manzil. The Kureshi family then took permanent residence in this house. In 1969, when the communal riots spread, his house in Swastik Society was burned down and the Ashram had also been attacked. Hamid Kureshi then writes, “I am thinking if the Imam Manzil in Gandhi Ashram is not safe, then where can I possibly seek shelter? I am bewildered. I shut my eyes.” This moment, perhaps, can be regarded as the most painful moment in a series of heart-wrenching events.  Imam Manzil was under-threat, challenged by those who preached violence and practiced hate. The paradox, here, is unbelievable. At the end of the day, Imam Manzil surfaced unscathed and protected by the members of the Ashram. The sheer power and support of the Hindu community at such an unfortunate time has been narrated by the author with compassion and gratefulness.

Translated from the original Gujarati by Rita Kothari, the book takes us through the riot-torn areas, lanes, and roads of Ahmedabad. Kureshi’s writing style is articulate, providing a picturesque and detailed sequence of events as they unfolded. From the minute he realizes the seriousness of the riots, we learn and experience life though his eyes. The horrified and fear-ridden atmosphere of his family members, the calm and composed demeanour of his father, the negligent attitude of the Government and police department, the places he passes by– staring as the shops are set ablaze and areas which are no longer recognizable, give us a clear projection of life in 1969 Gujarat.

Hamid Kureshi ends his memoir by focusing on the silver lining; that good that still exists within each and every one of us. By choosing joy over grief, believing in peace and harmony, we can emerge victorious.


Author: Hamid Kureshi

Translator: Rita Kothari

Pages: 84

Publisher: Orient Blackswan

Blurb:

A memoir of trauma and hope set against the 1969 riots of Ahmedabad, Agnipariksha recounts the experiences of an eminent Gujarat High Court lawyer who lived in both word and spirit a life of religious and cultural pluralism. Hamid Kureshi grew up in proximity to Gandhi in a family whose devotion to the nation and to Gandhi, was absolute. During the riots, when perhaps for the first time, Kureshi—a third-generation Gandhian and a non-practising Muslim married to a Hindu woman—is reduced to being only a Muslim, he struggles to comprehend the hatred and rage directed at his community even as an entire legacy of Gandhian syncreticism stands challenged.
In this matter-of-fact, restrained, yet poignant first-person account, Kureshi provides the landscape of a violence-ridden city, as also a glimpse into the many lives associated with the Gandhi Ashram. In an atmosphere of terrible fear and uncertainty, he recounts how his family’s struggles for self-preservation were buoyed by the constant shielding presence, concern and affection of Hindu friends and neighbours and the Ashram community. This memoir is an assertion of human kindness, friendship and dignity amidst mortal danger, hatred and fear; and Kureshi’s narration, untouched by bitterness or resentment, leaves the reader moved.
Agnipariksha is a valuable addition to Gujarati literature and a welcome companion to Gandhi and Peace Studies. This translation by Rita Kothari—a reputed cultural historian, author and translator—makes a rare document of a period, a city and inter-faith relationships accessible to a wider readership for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

A Girl Like That By Tanaz Bhathena is a powerful and disturbing debut, and a fresh voice that is sure to create ripples. 

One of my most anticipated reads of 2018 was A Girl like That by Tanaz Bhathena, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotionally devastating, and hard hitting. But, alas. Here we are.

Right in the beginning, we know that Zarin and her friend Porus have died in a car crash. Their spirits sit above the scene of the accident, hovering, and floating, looking down at their own lifeless bodies, and wondering what’s next? Everyone, from the religious police to Zarin’s classmates, are suspicious? Was Zarin having an affair with Porus? Was she trying to run away? The rumors just keep getting nasty. The story is a build up leading to the cause of their death. It’s more about what happens before then what comes after.

Set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Zarin is an orphan who is brought up by her uncle and aunt, and is the unlucky recipient of her aunt’s physical and mental abuse. Her uncle is just an enabler, often acting as a pacifier between Zarin and his wife. Zarin, in an attempt to ridicule and mock her aunt, starts playing around with boys, often flashing smiles in malls. This soon becomes an escape for her since her family has been tainted ever since she was born. Her father was a gangster and her mother was a cabaret in a Mumbai bar. After their deaths, Zarin along with her uncle and aunt moved to Jeddah, to start a new life. But things as we find out, are only getting worse.

There are several important themes that Tanaz has covered, and all of them are substantial considering the times we live in. Bullying has become a culture, and the mental and physical impact of being bullied is catastrophic. We see how Zarin is always the topic of discussion, is slut-shamed and has her modesty questioned at every step of the way. At home, her aunt’s over-protective and controlling nature do more harm than good, and the romantic liaisons Zarin has only prove detrimental to her in the long run. Other themes such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and mental illness have been incorporated in a way that reflect the hypocritical nature of the society at large, and how this regressive nature has affected young minds.

The story has been narrated from several povs which was surprising and refreshing to read. We have Abdullah, Zarin’s ex-boyfriend, his  holier than thou sister, Mishal, who has sworn to tarnish Zarin’s reputation and  Farhan, the popular guy who takes every girl for a ride with his money and good looks. The story as a whole is narrated by Zarin and Porus, respectively. We see the life of two youngsters and also understand the story as outsiders.

You couldn’t win anyone’s approval by trying to fit in or even by doing what they expected you to.

Zarin is a rebel, unafraid yet scared, to whom love has evaded. She is terrified of loving and is in search of a home she fails to find. Porus, on the other hand, has been the hand that keeps lifting her, protecting her from every obstacle, yet finds himself in a war zone, a conflict between his love, Zarin, and the world that has other demands. However, Zarin’s attitude towards Porus often annoyed me. Her reckless nature and lack of concern for Porus, even as friend just didn’t make sense to me. This is the only issue I feel could have been dealt with in a more mature way.

Memories can be like splinters, digging into you when you least expect them to, holding tight and sharp the way wood did when it slid under a fingernail.

Tanaz’s writing is beautiful, extremely vivid, with powerful insight into the society we live in. It talks about teenage alienation, their fears and angst while also tackling issues of race, caste and religion.  A Girl Like That By Tanaz Bhathena is a powerful and disturbing debut, and a fresh voice that is sure to create ripples.

There were times, however, when stories came alive. When someone who you thought you’d never see again stepped back into your world and knocked the wind out of you.


Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Publisher: Penguin India

Genre: YA

Pages: 369

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4/5

Source: Review copy.

Blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.

Book Review: Option B

Books & Teaa

I don’t know anyone who has been handed only roses. We all encounter hardships. Some we see coming; others take us by surprise. It can be as tragic as the sudden death of a child, as heartbreaking as a relationship that unravels, or as disappointing as a dream that goes unfulfilled. The question is: When these things happen, what do we do next?

Life, as we know it, is unpredictable. You’re walking down the road in your freshly cleaned and ironed white shirt only to have mud splashed all over your clothes. You’re standing on the road, hailing abuses at the vehicle who did it, but there’s only so much you can do. Or maybe accidentally dropping your favorite scoop of ice-cream you’d been wanting to savor. These are small almost unimportant terrible things that happen. What does one do when they fail at an important phase of their life?…

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A profound yet witty story about loneliness, and how people choose to cope with it.

Winner of the Costa Book Award 2018,  and a longlist nominee for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is Honeyman’s debut novel that has struck many a hearts with its honest writing and a character so real, that one wonders what took the author so long to pen down a novel so brilliant in its entirety.

Eleanor is in her 30s, living a life that consists of just her and maybe a pot plant at home she often talks to. She has been working as a finance clerk in a graphic design company for 9 years now, with no friends or colleagues to pass time with. Her only solace is crossword puzzles and weekends spent with a bottle of vodka and Tesco pizzas. If monotony had a name, it would be Eleanor. She is socially awkward, and doesn’t understand ‘small talk’ or other niceties. Always the subject of jokes by her colleagues, Eleanor is often regarded as the ‘weirdo’.

“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? “

Eleanor develops a huge crush on a pop singer she sees in a concert, and decides that he’s the one for her. The singer is far from what Eleanor imagines him to be, and is a terrible singer with no respect for others whatsoever. She then goes to many lengths to change her appearance, so that their chance meeting could be memorable. Eleanor starts obsessing over the singer like a high-school teenager, and follows him around on social media. Her concept of what’s real and imaginary is blurred.

One fine day, she helps an old man who fell down in the middle of the road. She along with Raymond, the IT guy in her office, take it upon themselves to rescue the old man. This particular act of kindness opens doors for her, leading her to several other connections, and possibly towards a life Eleanor had always imagined. She has to break down the walls she’s constructed around her, and for the first time in forever, feel and experience things from a different perspective.

Although Eleanor is a loner, she speaks with her mother on the phone on Wednesday nights. Her ‘mummy’ lives somewhere far, and is a terrible mother who projects all her anger and rage at her daughter. Eleanor has spent her childhood in foster homes, and has always missed having a family. Eleanor doesn’t know where her mummy is but all she knows is that it’s a ‘bad place’.

The question then arises; why is Eleanor so lonely? The past is unravelled slowly with each chapter, and you’re able to understand the reason behind this isolation. Eleanor has had a troubled past, where she had been abused both mentally and physically throughout her life. While in university, she was in an abusive relationship with a man, who would punch and rape her. Her low self-esteem and social anxiety pinpoint to years of emotional trauma and lack of love. She lives with a scar on her face, after having survived a third degree burn in her childhood. This invited bullying in school, and everywhere she went.  Eleanor has learnt how to survive. Living, however, is still alien to her

Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She’s done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.’

Never before has loneliness been narrated in such a heartbreaking way. Humans have various coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with loneliness. Eleanor, on the other hand, tells herself she’s completely fine. She embodies all of us, who are hiding under the garb of ‘work’ or ‘meetings’ or ‘parties’ to avoid being left alone with nothing but our thoughts; hoping that one day, the burden we’re carrying deep inside would be lifted and we could feel free again.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a roller coaster ride of emotions, and laughter, and subtle jibes at the bleak lives some humans live. It is as much about loneliness as it is about hope and the chance to love.

There are scars on my heart, just as thick, as disfiguring as those on my face. I know they’re there. I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.”


Author: Gail Honeyman

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Pages: 383

Rating: 4.8/5

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?