The Aryabhata Clan by Sudipto Das

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

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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.

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?

A Quest for Spring by Monica Mujumdar Dixit:

A story of heartbreak, reconciliation and betrayal.

A Quest for Spring is a novel of friendship, of betrayal, and most importantly, of love. Raehan and Amolika, although polar opposites, find themselves being drawn to each other more and more as time passes. What started as a college friendship soon turns into sincere affection for one another. Despite belonging to different religion and social strata, Raehan and Amolika, are caught in a web of uncertainty regarding their future. Underlying their love is an ulterior motive, which prevents them from being together. Raehan and Amolika, separated by destiny, are reunited once again after sixteen years. One is going to become the Chief Minister, and the other is already a renowned journalist. Their meeting will unearth layers of the past which were buried deep within. Will this chance meeting bring back bitter memories or will they see through the storm?

I really enjoyed the beginning of Raehan and Amolika’s friendship during their college days at St.Pauls. Through the entirety of the novel, I was drawn to the character of  Amolika. She is driven and highly ambitious and is always up for challenges. Raehan, on the other hand, became an interesting character in the later part of the novel. The author has smoothly incorporated the role of other characters which sometimes came across better than our main characters. I really wanted to read more about Dhruv and his life. What really appealed to me were the plot twists. Since I had ventured into reading a romance novel, I was expecting cliche moments and unnecessary display of affection but here, none of that took place.  For someone who isn’t into romantic novels, I was glued to the story for most parts.

Coming to the details, the author has penned down several moments that took place in 1990s, such as the mentions of SRK movies or Titanic or Princess Diana’s death.  The political backdrop of the novel makes it all the more interesting. The novel is divided into 4 parts, each taking us through Raehan and Amolika’s transition. The storytelling has been commendable.

Despite the good story line, there has been lack of attention given to punctuation and grammatical errors. There are way too many exclamation marks, and in most of the places two words have no spacing between them. This made it difficult to go through the book. I really wished more emphasis was given on editing. The climax was also predictable.

For a debut novel, Monica has presented to us a romance that stood all the hardships and emerged victorious. Lovers of the romance genre will really like the book.


Author: Monica Mujumdar Dixit

Publisher: Notion Press

Pages: 402

Rating:3.5/4

Source: Review Copy

Blurb:

Raehan and Amolika come from two very different worlds. And for the time that their worlds overlap and stick to one path, life seems beautiful. Between projects at college and hanging out with friends, the two of them come to a startling revelation that involves a bond of love between them.
Unbeknownst to the both of them, there lies a leviathan of espionage that eventually consumes the bond they share, driving them apart by force.
Sixteen years pass, when fate decides to rekindle their bond – only this time, the challenges are exacerbated by the unresolved baggage of the past. Do the two of them find each other? Does the dull, grey, long-standing spell of winter rise to give way to spring?

 

 

Genuine Fraud by E.Lockhart- Story told in reverse

An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.

 

A story told in reverse. A story where our protagonist is both a hero and the villain. A story about dysfunctional, and disturbed teenagers. A story about murders and maybe some more. A story about friendship and the lack of it. Meet Jules who often identifies herself with Imogen, her best friend. Jules, who is not like a regular teenager but has a lot of special and dangerous skills. She’s great at pretending to be someone she’s not. She’s alone, but not afraid.

Genuine Fraud by E.Lockhart is a book that’s narrated in a different chronological order. We know the climax in the middle, and then the story of how the events played out keep unfolding. At first, I was confused with the order but eventually things started making sense. I can understand why E.Lockhart ‘s book has appealed to readers in ways more than one. For starters, she is able to hold the attention of the readers, and manages to create suspense. The writing style is fast-paced with each chapter ending on a cliff-hanger.

The story, however, didn’t strike a cord with me. Towards the end, I wanted to get over with the book, partly because there was no element of suspense left for me. The ending felt too rushed. I appreciate how unique the story-writing is and the drama, the book entailed. But somehow, it didn’t work for.

This was my first E.Lockhart book and I’m adamant on reading her most famous work, ‘We Were Liars’ only because I know how capable a writer Lockhart is.

You can finish this book in one sitting, and if you’re new to the genre of psychological thrillers, you’d really enjoy Genuine Fraud.

Have you read Genuine Fraud? What did you think of it?


Author: E.Lockhart

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating:3.5/4

Pages: 264

Format: Paperback

Source: Review copy

Blurb:

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Murder In A Minute by Shouvik Bhattacharya

When a young girl is murdered in her house, everyone speculates it’s her college sweetheart, but the tale is more complicated. Is it an inside job, and if so, who’s the murderer?

Esha Arora, a dynamic, driven and ambitious girl is found dead in her cottage side apartment, lying in a pool of her own  blood. Present at the time of the murder are people she calls family including her boyfriend and a few colleagues. Each of them have an alibi. Yet the killer is mysteriously lurking around the house in broad daylight, deceiving everyone. It’s clear that this murder is an inside job. The question then arises; who killed Esha? And more importantly, WHY?

Murder in a Minute is Shouvik’s debut novel, and it hits all the right spots. Right from the start, you get an eerie sense of foul play, the tension starts building up, and when the story unfolds itself, you realize there is way more to the story than what meets the eye. After Esha is found dead, her step-brothers, Rishabh and Arya, are shattered. Having a fond relationship with their elder sister, this loss almost breaks them. With the help of the investigating officer, they set up on a journey to find out the truth and find the murderer. Slowly, the real characters of the family members is brought to light, and it’s understood that the holier than thou persona of the people present in the house is just a means to cover their doings. All evidence points towards Esha’s boyfriend. He is the lead suspect. But there are other family members who are equally guilty. Power, jealousy and greed are monsters that have the potential to wipe out relationships. Was Esha the victim of a family dispute?

We find out gradually that Esha was distressed, and unhappy. But again, we’re left with the haunting question; WHY? What was the cause of misery for her? She had taken Arora Cements to new heights, overtaking other companies, and at the same time giving her workers the wage they deserved. She was far ahead of her competitors, and yet somehow, her heart wasn’t in the right place.

There are several plot twists. The author has crafted the story rather creatively. Each chapter has a unique title, almost playing hide and seek with the readers. All throughout the reading of the novel, I kept placing bets on who the murderer could be, and every time I was proved wrong. And that’s exactly what I loved about the story. The unpredictability of what could happen next. The writing style of the author is simple and easy to read. You can flip through the pages and devour the book in one sitting.

I wish there was more backstory about the characters since it’s all about the psychological and mental attitude of the characters that were of main importance in the story. I wanted to read more about them, individually. I really enjoyed the ending, but it was a little far-fetched. Up to a certain point, everything was moving perfectly but then it took a different turn which didn’t appeal to me as a reader.

To be honest, I am quite impressed considering this is the author’s debut novel, and on top of that, he has managed to pull of a thriller so effortlessly and with the ability of an expert storyteller.

Murder In A Minute is engaging, fast-paced, and is sure to give you a satisfying reading experience.


Author: Shouvik Bhattacharya

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Pages: 228

Blurb:

“People are essentially good, until they are caught.”

When a young woman is found lifeless in a pool of her own blood, everyone is convinced that it is her college sweetheart who murdered her.

The victim’s step-brothers, Rishabh and Arya aren’t so convinced. They embark on a journey to unearth the truth, a journey riddled with fallacies and conspiracies, planted intentionally to trap them.
Is there a connection between a missing blue envelope, a misplaced sweater and stray footprints in a room? Could those people they thought they knew so well be hiding dark secrets about their past? Or did their dead sister have more to hide than anyone involved?

With pressures mounting and suspicions looming, love will lose to ambition, greed will trump responsibility and deception would be common. Will the duo succeed in muddling through the convoluted clues on time, or will their first wrong step be their last?

Find out in the pulse-pounding suspense thriller. 

 

A big thanks to the publishers for sending a review copy. 

Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra: If you could read just one book, let it be this one.

Digging into the past, through material objects carried by people at the time of Partition.

There have been countless books, articles, documentaries and journals written and published about the Partition that shook millions, and uprooted the very foundation of the people, its government and the country. But none comes closer to tracing the lives and emotions of the people present at the time of partition like Aanchal Malhotra’s book, Remnants of a Separation does. The novel in its entirety consists of 19 stories about people who were severely affected by the Divide that took place in 1947, and the aftermath of which, can still be felt by the people who were witness to the mass displacement. Aanchal through her book has presented a unique way of preserving and storing the memory of people from both sides of the border through objects carried by them at the time of Partition. Who would have imagined that a maang tikka, a ghaz, a set of kitchen utensils, a shawl or a peacock-shaped bracelet would be a testimony of a life that existed in an Undivided India? How a tangible object had the power to survive through years and years of dust, struggle, and loss? It’s unreal how the memory works. And it’s even more baffling how simple objects hold so much history in them.

Aanchal Malhotra in the introduction to her book writes, ’what is important and what I have attempted to do through each chapter, is to weave together a cohesive narrative of personal experiences vis-a-vis the past as well as the present. Memorialization is not a passive practice but an active conversation. By studying the evolution of personal histories from that period, we allow ourselves to unravel further and understand better the legacy of the Partition”.  After reading the novel, you understand the history and the real scenario of the Partition. We all know, how the seed of partition was planted, and how it was finally implemented but little do we know about the lives of the people caught in either side of the border. Mass killings that led to dead bodies being strewn across the floor like carpet, religious intolerance, loots, rapes, heavy displacement of people and property and the emotional upheaval faced by many have been articulately described in the book. The author herself encountered objects that had been carried by her grandmother over the years since partition and that lead to the unraveling of stories that were hidden in the minds of the people. She then searched for other migrants with similar stories and objects to share which then led to the making of this book; a first of its kind that uses material memory and objects as testaments to the lives of the people who owned them.

Remnants of a Separation is like a treasure-trove of stories, each unique and painful in its own. Aanchal’s writing is lyrical, woven delicately and carefully, lest the effect is lost.  The interviewees are all people belonging to India or Pakistan, their history of who they are and how they re-shaped their lives in the event of the Partition will make you realize the struggle and hardships of the refugees and how painstakingly they survived with little or no money in a country they couldn’t recognize as their own.

An oral historian and artist herself, Aanchal, has evoked deep rooted sentiments and emotions about one of the greatest tragedies to hit mankind and has portrayed it in a beautiful storytelling format that demands attention and recognition.

Aanchal says, “I realized that the Partition wasn’t just about those who crossed the border, but also about those who remained behind. It affected even those who never moved and never had to. It consumed even their lives, because they had remained amidst the chaos. They too had seen the riots, the violence, the disorder, but from a different perspective.

The events described by the people are extremely powerful and strong. The atmosphere at the time of Partition was that of uncertainty, fear, anger and of course hate of a different kind.  But amidst the rage and vengeance, are also heroic stories of Hindus putting their lives in danger for their fellow neighbors and Muslims ready to save their Hindu friends in times of need. In one of the stories named, ‘The Maang Tikka of Bhag Malhotra’, the author’s grandmother, narrates how at a time when the air was filled with intolerance, her Muslim helpers, would accompany them to school, even if that meant putting their life in danger. It’s just one of the many instances where humans defied religion and nationalism to put humanity first. Most of the refugees experienced horrific circumstances, which left a deep scar, one that never really fades but chooses to be a reminder of what was and will never be.  The Partition affected all those who had to flee in the dead of the night as much as it affected those who stayed.  As Mian Faiz Rabbani puts it, ‘Aap agar ek paudhe ko apni zameen se nikal kar kisi aur zameen mein daalenge, toh panapne mein samay toh lagega na? (If you uproot a sapling from its natural habitat and try to transplant it elsewhere, the chances of it growing and thriving are slim–and perhaps it may not live at all.)

 

Final Thoughts:

I think writing a review is narrowing down Aanchal’s years of painstaking research and hard work, and the only way to do justice to it is by reading the book and then re-reading it all over again. I had finished reading the book a few days back but was short of words to pen down a review. With a new perspective on the history of Partition, unique storytelling, and emotionally packed stories, Remnants of a Separation, is a book that you MUST read.

Human memory is fragile. We mentally store our experiences as memories. However, it is important to understand that our memory is not a recording device. It cannot be assumed that whatever one experiences will be stored as an exact and precise mnemonic trace of that moment, especially when time gradually begins to wear it down.

 

 

 


Author: Aanchal Malhotra

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Pages: 366

Rating: 5/5

Format: Hardcover

 

 

Love is Never Easy by Donna Dias Manuel

A tale of strong friendship, loyalty and courage coupled with inside jokes, leg-pulling and late-night gossip sessions make Love is Never Easy an engaging and compelling read.

A tale of strong friendship, loyalty and courage coupled with inside jokes, leg-pulling and late-night gossip sessions make Love is Never Easy an engaging and compelling read. It’s a story of three friends; Nina, Aisha and Rhea who have sworn to have each other’s back till eternity whilst struggling to keep up with the difficulties in their own lives.

The novel is about childhood friends who meet after years in Goa to attend their school’s centenary year. A lot has happened since they last met; Nina is married and is now heading the marketing department of her firm, Aisha is regarded as one of the top architects and Rhea with her passion of dance has opened her own dancing school. Like most friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time, they’re all pretty excited. But amidst their excitement, each one is trying to cope up with troubles in their life. Nina, for once, is struggling with her marriage, Aisha is caught up in an affair and is pregnant and Rhea is about to come out to her parents and her two friends. Will this meeting break  the Wolf Pack (as they call themselves) or make their bond even stronger? And even if everything goes down well, Nina has been smacked hard with another obstacle. Will she overcome it like she always does or will she give in?

I enjoyed reading Love is Never easy more so because I could picture myself having a gala time with my friends and laughing and dancing the night away. Donna’s writing style is simple, fast-paced and is able to hold the readers’ attention. However, there are a few cliché moments in the book that seem a little over the top. The ending was predictable for me and I really wanted to read more about Rhea and Aisha as these two characters lost their charm towards the end.

All in all, the book showcases the power and strength of women who despite all the odds emerge victorious. Women are and have always been capable of handling every setback life throws at them and they do it very graciously. The story is as much about self-discovery as it is about friendship. The characters experience some life-changing events and through introspection and soul searching finally discover themselves and embrace who they really are.

If you’re looking for a book that you could finish in one sitting and be satisfied, then Love is Never Easy by Donna Dias Manuel would be a good pick.

Blurb:

Nina’s perfect professional life takes a toll on her marriage. Aisha is pregnant with her secret lover’s child. Rhea is trying to come out to her family. In the midst of all this, life throws yet another curve ball at Nina. Will the three friends overcome their troubles?

 


 

Publisher: Juggernaut

Pages: 364

Format: e-book

Rating: 3.9/5

 

Austenistan: Paying homage to Jane Austen, one short story at a time.

Paying homage to one of our most favourite authors, Jane Austen, one short story at a time.

Austenistan is a collection of short stories that is highly inspired by Jane Austen. Set in contemporary Pakistan, the stories revolve around the present-day scenario of young Pakistanis. Edited by Laaleen Sukhera of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan, the book consists of multiple stories by Pakistani women writers who often find themselves in Austen’s shoes. The humour, the romance, the drama and the reality of living in a world that still continues to be superficial, arrogant and boisterous and where marriage proposals and wedding receptions are larger than life are fine examples of how the society still functions.

Jane Austen’s works albeit few, still linger and are referred to by many. Her books are immemorial, holding a special place in the literary world. Therefore, reading the stories in an Austen-inspired style was refreshing, and a unique way to keep Austen’s legacy alive.

Every chapter in the story starts with a quote from Austen’s novels which I personally loved. It was like a clue to the story making the reader curious right from the start. The stories have a female protagonist who despite her struggles and shortcomings, eventually takes charge of her life, struggling yet getting back up, and maybe, finding her happily ever after or in this  case finding a Mr.Darcy? The writing style of every writer is simple, easy to read and the stories are in no way conventional. The characters mirror the ones in Austen’s novels. From mothers who are worried about getting their daughters married off like Mrs.Benett in Pride and Prejudice to Lady Susan who comes out of her sadness, despair and mourning to once again start her life, Austenistan has effortlessly captured it all.

Although the novel is filled with humour, one can’t ignore the social message being sung in hushed but impactful voices. The heroines in Austenistan surpass social boundaries, break stereo-types and decide the course of their life. They’re not bogged down by societal pressures of marriage, and are not afraid of voicing their opinions. The themes in each story revolve around marital abuse, gay men being married off to straight women, and forced marriages, all of which are harsh realities in today’s society. Pointing out the double standards in a comical manner is one of the many plus points of this novel.

If you’re looking for a refreshing and light read and are an ardent Austen fan, Austenistan is a perfect choice.


Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Blurb:

Heiress Kamila Mughal is humiliated when her brother’s best friend snubs her to marry a social climbing nobody from Islamabad. Roya discovers her fiancé has been cheating on her and ends up on a blind date on her wedding day. Beautiful young widow Begum Saira Qadir has mourned her husband, but is she finally ready to start following her own desires?

Inspired by Jane Austen and set in contemporary Pakistan, Austenistan is a collection of seven stories; romantic, uplifting, witty, and heartbreaking by turn, which pay homage to the queen of romance who lives on among us.

This House Of Clay And Water by Faiqa Mansab: A tale of forbidden love, freedom and the need to belong.

A story of two women and a transgender.

All throughout my journey of reading this novel, the only thought that kept coming back, constantly hovering around was the inability to write a review that would do justice to the masterpiece that is This House of Clay and Water. How would I ever put into words what Mansab did so elegantly? And then I realized, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because a book like this one, needed to be read, to be preserved and referred to. What the author has portrayed through the book has so far only been scoffed at, or spoken in hushed tones. Her promising debut novel is a fresh voice to Pakistani Literature and is sure to create ripples for times to come. It’s not a story you forget easily. It keeps coming back, to stay with you. It’s a novel you often think about. It’s a story that becomes a part of you.

This House Of Clay and Water is a story of love, of freedom, of identity, of betrayal, of courage and the need to belong somewhere. It’s a story of three lost souls, who are trying to find meaning, who are trying to fit in, to have a purpose. It’s a story of two women and a eunuch. It’s about Nida, Sasha and Bhanggi whose paths are meant to cross each other. Nida, an intelligent woman, married to Saqib who belongs to an affluent political family, tries to comply to the standards society has set. Nida, is also our protagonist. Burdened by the patriarchal system and belonging to the elite class, she struggles constantly. Her imagination, her ideas, her feelings have been reduced to nothing. Her life is supposed to revolve around her marriage, her husband, whose idea of an ideal wife means being submissive to him and functioning according to his convenience. After all, that’s what a woman is for. Nida is broken. She says, “I’d morphed, altered, nipped and tucked away bits of my personality for so long, I no longer recognized myself. I feared that one day, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to identify myself. I’d be forever trapped in an image of another’s making, and there would be no escape because I would have forgotten to want to escape” Sasha, on the other hand, belonging to a middle class family, married with two children, dreams of a luxurious life and an escape. Both the characters seem to be caught in a web of their own insecurities, hurt and shattered dreams. The third character, Bhanggi, a eunuch, belongs to the most neglected marginalised minority group in Pakistan. All his life, he’s been considered worst than pests, called a stain to humanity and beaten black and blue by everyone he comes across. He says, “I cannot rid myself of the affliction called hope. I scoop up its broken shards within the cups of my hands. I hold it fast to my heart every time it shatters against the monolithic reality that looms at every, in every human eye.” For Mansab, to attempt to portray a hijra as a normal person with natural feelings, is a brave effort. No other writer could have done it so beautifully.

The three characters; Nida, Sasha and Bhanggi meet at a Dargah. Here starts a bond of friendship and of love. The characters evolve and undergo drastic changes throughout the novel which makes it even more compelling. The plot is smart. The author’s narrative technique and form played an important role in transforming the story. Mansab transitions between first person narration and a free style. The reader will automatically adjust to the change because it’s not abrupt but rather smooth.

The novel is based in Lahore and the author has aptly described the social structure of the society; Where hypocrisy, money and power dictate how lives should be led. A society that still continues to uphold the patriarchal nature; who deems a woman to be less than man.

Any woman who had been with more than one man, even if it was within the bounds of holy matrimony, was considered a slut. Islam failed to impress men here. Though the religion they expunded upon every waking hour permitted a woman to remarry in case of death of the husband or divorce, she was deemed promiscouus if she took advantage of said law.

In the novel, Mansab, portrays the regressive nature of the people, of breaking stereotypes and how women continue to be exploited in the name of religion. It’s as much a story of redemption, of lost love as it is about outdated societal norms and disillusionment. This House Of Clay and Water is a powerful and moving novel, one that has dived deep into the psyche of humans and has opened up room for sensitive issues which are only discussed in closed rooms.

Some words are prisons. They’re labels of reduction. They’re like stones catapulting through mouths, hundreds and thousands of mouths, to target and hurt.


Author: Faiqa Mansab

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Pages: 272

Format: Harcover

Rating: 4.8/5

 

The Tree With A Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta: A story of war, bloodshed & fight for Justice.

A story of tormented Kashmir, of love, loss and terror.

If you could name heaven on earth, what would you choose? For Bilal, Deewan and Safeena, it was their Home, their safe heaven; Kashmir. A place where the skies looked like they’ve been constructed by a painter, where the mountains and rivers danced in their own rhythm and where trees have the gift to bore a thousand apples. Little did the three friends know that their innocent and fairytale life would be snatched away in the blink of an eye? Welcome to Kashmir, Srinagar, which is now a battleground, a place where ‘azadi’ has cost the lives of many and where peace is a distant dream.

The Tree with a Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta is a blood-curling testament about the lives of people living in war-torn Kashmir. It’s a chilling account of Bilal, Deewan and Safeena, who lose their family, turn into people they had sworn they would never turn into and who face adversity at the heart of it all.

Before the insurgency, Deewan Bhatt, Bilal Ahnagar and Safeena Malik were living a very normal life as friendly neighbors and friends. But the night of the insurgency changed everything. Deewan had to flee his home since he was a Kashmiri Pandit while Bilal and Safeena spent their lives living in terror and death. Bilal becomes a product of his circumstances and does what most youth of Kashmir did; pick up the weapon and fight for ‘Azadi’. Safeena, on the other hand, suffered terrible losses, became a nurse but eventually did the unthinkable. They meet again, after 20 years. Their lives have been turned upside down. Will they give in or will they fight for what’s rightfully theirs?

The novel is a socio-political thriller, covering the lives of the three friends as well as the transition of Kashmir from 1990-2013. It’s a coming of age story which talks not only about the political setup but also about the breaking apart of communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims, the clashing of ideologies, the broken children and the need for unity. A Tree With A Thousand Apples is a sad tale about humanity. The price children, youth and adults pay when harmony refuses to co-exist.

Throughout the novel, there is a deep sense to belong somewhere, anywhere. There’s an isolation of sorts one that runs deep down your soul and there’s nothing you can do about it. Helplessness and anger at the top of it all. It’s a cry for peace; a cry to be together. The Author has woven magic with his unique and beautiful description of Kashmir. No other writing could have done justice to the magnificence that was once Kashmir. I loved the narrative technique, the writing is simple yet enthralling and the novel overall makes for a great,fast paced read.

The novel has been written in a time where hues of cry and justice are reverberated everywhere, where anger rides a human mind and the ability to live together is lost. If there’s one novel you should read, it has to be A Tree With A Thousand Apples.

 


Author: Sanchit Gupta

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Pages: 279

Rating: 4.2/5

Format: Hardcover

Blurb:

If the criminal was once a saint and the saint was once a criminal, then who is a criminal and who is a saint?

Inspired by true events, this riveting narrative traces the lives of Safeena Malik, Deewan Bhat and Bilal Ahanagar, three childhood friends who grow up in an atmosphere of peace and amity in Srinagar, Kashmir, until the night of 20 January 1990 changes it all.

While Deewan is forced to flee from his home, Safeena’s mother becomes ‘collateral damage’ and Bilal has to embrace a wretched life of poverty and fear. The place they called paradise becomes a battleground and their friendship struggles when fate forces them to choose sides against their will.

Twenty years later destiny brings them to a crossroads again, when they no longer know what is right and what is wrong. While both compassion and injustice have the power to transform lives, will the three friends now choose to become sinful criminals or pacifist saints?The Tree with a Thousand Apples is a universal story of cultures, belongingness, revenge and atonement. The stylized layered format, fast-paced narration and suspenseful storytelling makes for a powerful, gripping read