Friday, June 13, 2014

Sunday's Surprise

Thursday...Friday, Saturday and Sunday! Three days more! Sharada was thrilled as she ticked marked the days on the calendar. She had labeled Sunday as Sunday's Surprise, because the much-awaited holiday was spent differently every week.
Sharada and her parents went to malls, parks, ice-cream parlour or sights around the city. The best part was their day was foot-loose! So, this Sunday when her Dad asked Sharada what she would like to do, she chirped, 'Let's go on a drive.'
In the afternoon, they set off in their car, humming songs along with the FM radio. Sharada's Dad drove to the outskirts, where there was less of mad honking, and the air was cooler. Seated in the back, Sharada saw houses painted in bright oranges and yellows, sparrows queuing up on the electric wires and green meadows, pass by in a blur.
She wondered if Dad would stop the car and they would settle under a tree and eat a picnic snack. But, he kept on driving. Soon, the drive turned bumpy, because there was no road, only a small path; rows and rows of tall weed and grass rustled along the car's door. And, then the car came to a stop.
A pin drop silence greeted the trio. A serene, tranquil silence enveloped Sharada and her parents. Sharada's Dad took her hand and they walked into the woods.
'This is a devrai, Sharada. A sacred grove,' her father explained.
'Dev....rai,' Sharada rolled the letters on her tongue. What does it mean, Dad?
'According to an ancient nature law, the sacred grove should remain untouched. No cutting down of trees or clearing the grove to build houses!' Dad explained.
' a warning from God! Beware! Don't touch this grove or else....' Sharada grinned.
'Yes, something like that. Long ago, some smart people thought that if the has to be protected then it should be named after the Almighty. That will deter people with eveil intentions so that they don't incur His' wrath,' Mum explained, adding 'Such groves are worshipped by the villagers.'
The trio walked some more till they reached a gnarled tree trunk.
'This is a tree trunk, Sharada. About 200-years-old or maybe more. Now it's home to so many insects and birds. One could call it a thriving eco-system,' Dad explained.
'Ensuring continuity?' asked Sharada.
Her Dad nodded as he settled down on a boulder. Sharada and her Mum settled down on nearby boulders, taking in the sight. The tall trees had formed a canopy, and the sunlight trickled in through the green cover. The afternoon sun didn't bother them at all! The sunlight, when it fell on leaves, formed an interesting combination of light and shadow. A perfect photograph moment!
Sharada had brought along her camera to take happy pictures. It did cross her mind to collect the camera from the dashboard of the car. But, she shrugged and changed her mind, 'If this is meant to be Nature's secret, I should let it remain so.'
After walking through the grove, crackling dry leaves under their footwear, Sharada's Dad signalled that they ought to leave. He took another circuitous route, so as to avoid driving through the Devrai, to connect with the bumpy road.
On her way back, Sharada sank in her seat and thought of the tall, majestic trees living like a hermit – secluded from the world, but very much a part of it. This Sunday was truly a surprise.
'I bet no other Sunday is going to give me as much pleasure as I got from spending my time in the Devrai,' Sharada grinned.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A tale for the old and the young

Reviewed this book for the Sunday pages. Funny, wise fable!

Name: Junglezen Sheru
By: Samarpan
Published by: Pan Macmillan India
Price: Rs 150

In a jungle, its king, the lion, is no more and so the animals look towards his cub to lead them. But, Sheru the cub, doesn't know that he is meant to rule. Instead he takes pride in being the royal carrier of Kapi, the monkey, who takes over the reins of the forest. Sheru, after the death of his parents, is adopted by Muktak, the wise old elephant
. But like any restless child, he hates Muktak's sermons and constant goading to 'behave like a lion!' Sheru ignores the wise creatures and their teachings and falls in line with the scheming and the coward, who don't want the cub to rise to his core strength or individuality.
It's a funny, wise animal fable, by Samarpan a monk, but scratch the surface and you will find the similarities in the human world, our leaders, the social and political hierarchy and the 'monkeys' we carry on our backs.
Junglezen Sheru runs on the lines of George Orwell's Animal Farm and also combines elements from Panchatantra and Jatak tales. But while Orwell's is a scathing, sarcastic and painfully tragic commentary on socialism, Samarpan has kept the tone 'tongue-in-cheek'. His lucid prose debates on individuality, traits of good leadership and perfection as opposed to the 'collective.'
To put it in the words of Kurma, the wise old tortoise, 'The goal of life is to be universal. Confuse this not with the collective, for the journey from the collective to the universal can be made only by possessing a strong sense of individuality. If you have no individuality, you will end up with the collective.'
Each chapter of the book is preceded by quotes or verses picked from the Upanishads, the Bible, Swami Vivekanada and Acharya Shankara that tells the turn the story will take. The end of the story, is however, open to readers interpretation. And, according to my interpretation Sheru would go back to the battlefield and lead from the front. After all, a lion will be a lion, right?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cupid in the court (Interview with authors, Manjiri Prabhu and Sujata Parashar)

Why do people marry? Do you need to fall in love to get married? Or is it the society’s pressure to ‘settle down in life’ that makes people take the plunge? How many marry for the right reasons? And, what are those? If these are some of the questions troubling you, then you might find some answers at a symposium on ‘Love and Marriage,’ to be held today (April 27) at 11.30 am at Pagdandi-Books, Chai, Cafe, in association with Butterfly & The Bee. Writers Manjiri
Prabhu and Sujata Parashar will interact with each other and unravel various threads involved in the subject.
Manjiri is the Pune-based author of astro-detective novel The Cosmic Clues, in which the protagonist, Sonia Samarth launches a brand new business of private investigation using Hindu astrology as a crime-solving tool. Amongst her clients are a terrified bride-to-be and a missing husband with suicidal tendencies.
We ask Manjiri if matching stars takes the mystery and magic out of marriage. Manjiri disagrees, saying, “In fact, I believe that the mystery deepens, because now you have the clues to look for the right partner. Groping in a definite direction is better than groping blindfolded in the dark!”
Sujata Parashar, whose book In pursuit of offence is a contemporary take on marriage, is not entirely convinced about the use of astrology in choosing the right partner. “Although, I am not against the traditional way, I’m also not totally convinced about the astrology’s role in determining the right partner in one’s life. So, I’m very much looking forward to the discussion with Manjiri and the audience.”
What do the two think about the survival of the institution of marriage in times of live-in and open marriages? “Whether it is arranged or love marriage or a live-in relationship, love would determine the length and strength of your relationship,” Manjiri believes. Sujata opines that marriage as an institution will survive and work. But the form will inevitably change.
Her book tries to explore a very important question: Do people marry for the right reasons or just because the society expects it from them? “Happiness is the underlying principle for all relationships. If one is not happy, one cannot contribute towards a healthy and happy society. So, putting pleasure and happiness above the collective authority of society is not a blunder. It’s a requirement,” Sujata believes.
Clearly, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to love and marriages. And the topic will continue to provide fodder for books, poems and the cinematic medium. Agrees Manjiri, “Everyone loves a good love-story, in a book or in a film. The feel-good part, the intensity of conflict, the passion — it is easy to relate to. It reminds you of yourself and that is why somewhere along the line, it becomes your story, either in parts or whole. And that is why, stories of relationships will always find a season.”

I'm sure Sujata has her own time-tested views on marriage and whether we share the same views or not, the discussion should be very interesting. Not everyone has to agree with everyone. You can keep your own views, listen to those of the others and believe in the ones that relate to your experience and knowledge.
Manjiri Prabhu
The apparent incompatibility between the two sides on the issue of marriage will make it an exciting and meaningful interaction. It will present the readers with two completely different schools of thought meeting each other face to face and trying to question, explore and if possible establish a connection.

Sujata Parashar

Amidst flowers

Sharada was at the dining table wolfing down her cereal, and listening to Aji's telephonic conversation with Ram. It was a ritual that Sharada never had enough of, because Aji rolled out tongue-twisters (like pyarijaat. Actually, parijaat!) with ease. Plus, she was always bullying Ram with never-ending stream of instructions – Did you water the plants? Did you clear the weeds? How many ananta flowers bloomed?
Sharada had flown in from the US to Pune during her vacations. Her mother was already there with Aji, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The treatment left Aji wan and weak, but her eyes twinkled after her conversation with Ram.
Pune was not Aji's home; she lived in a sprawling house was in Konkan and loved telling stories about the house and garden to her granddaughter. Sharada who had never visited Aji in Konkan was full of questions, but soon realised that she didn't have answers to them. For instance, what was the English name for Jassuwandi? (It was jaswandi, but Sharada couldn't pronounce it correctly.) Aji didn't know.
Sharada's mother knew, but she was so busy tending to Aji that she dismissed Sharada's query with, 'Later.' Aji, Sharada discovered, didn't know how to use google. She had no photographs of the flowers to show.
So Sharada waited patiently for Aji to get better and fit to travel to her house. Three weeks later, the doctors said that Aji was doing fine and that cheered Aji and her granddaughter. Two days later they set off. But, by the time the car rolled in Aji's garden, dusk had fallen and there was power cut too.
Next morning, Sharada was startled by rooster's alarm! Rubbing her eyes, she wandered into the house and the veranda, where potted plants in every colour swayed in the gentle breeze. Sharada opened her eyes a little more wide and took in the plants and shrubs.
'Aji,' she called out and rushed to find her. She was nowhere in the house. Sharada thought she could hear some voices at the back.
'There you are!', said Sharada. Her mother and Aji were standing below the palm tree. Sharada spied a man higher up the tree. ' Ram!' she recognised him instantly. Soon he was down the tree in a jiffy.
Aji then asked him to get down the jackfruit and kelful. She also demanded to see jaswandi. And, when they rounded on the bush, Sharada exclaimed, 'This is hibiscus!'
'Is it?' smiled Aji. 'We call it jaswandi.'
Sharada knew of only red coloured jaswandi. But, in Aji's garden, she found white, pink, a mix of white and pink and even orange coloured hibiscus flowers!
Aji asked Ram to pick the flowers for her puja. Sharada followed Ram as he chose flowers with care. Hibiscus, jasmine, parijaat, ananta and tagar! The basket was full of aromatic flowers.
Ram handed it to Sharada who took the basket to Aji's prayer room. After puja, mother took out old albums and Sharada giggled at pictures of her pig-tailed mother and cousins. There was a picture in which a sulky looking mother stood near a jasmine shrub, with her palms cupped to hold flowers that Aji picked.
'Why are you sulking?' asked Sharada.
'I thought I looked funny and silly!' she grinned. 'But, now I think it's special! To be able to hold something which spreads so much joy!' she explained.
Sharada knew what she meant – she had liked picking flowers and watching Ram water the plants. Tomorrow she would request him to allow her to water plants and trees; and sit under their shade when it grew sunny. And, in evenings, she would return home, her eyes and ears blessed with sensory pleasure!
'But today,' she thought as she searched for Aji in the many rooms of the house, 'I'm going to collect jasmine flowers in my palms which Aji picks out for me.'

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Short story - What's cooking!

A brownie, deliciously warm, gooey and topped with nuts! Or something spicy like chaat. Even a thick milkshake of banana would perk him up! When exams near and especially, when they are just round the corner, the mind and the brain ticks for something else. Sighing, Neel let the Chemistry textbook rest on the table and turned around. Anu, his best friend, was sprawled over her Geometry and Anuj her twin, was yawning.
They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"This group study isn't helpful. I am unable to concentrate. I feel like sleeping," said Anuj.
"Well, my mind has drawn a blank. I simply can't comprehend Geometry," Anu added.
"And, I have been thinking of FOOD," sighed Neel.
" chips or sev puri. Mmm... munchies would help me concentrate," Anuj mused.
"Let's see what's there in the kitchen," said Anu jumping up from the bed.
"What if Mum discovers that we had been prowling around in the kitchen? You know, how she hates if the kitchen is in a mess. And, plus there's Bahadur to convince," Neel hesitated.
On cue, Bahadur stepped into Neel's bedroom ostensibly to check if they were studying. Looking at their tired faces he asked, "What's wrong?"
"Bahadur...make something for us, please! We are SO HUNGRY," Anu wheedled.
"Didn't you just finish your lunch?" he asked.
"But that was two hours ago! Come on, Bahadur, please make something for us," she tried again.
Irritated and restless, Anuj announced that he would rustle a meal for all, if Bahadur didn't make something for them.
Bahadur was quick to stop him. "Remember chocolate shake, Anuj?"
Last time when Anuj had entered the kitchen to make a milkshake, he had forgotten to cover the blender's jar and as a result the wall had chocolaty squiggles running down it.
"Oh Bahadur! Why don't you supervise us in the kitchen? You issue orders and we will follow them," Neel chimed in.
Thus cajoled, Bahadur led them to the kitchen and the trio opened jars and tins.
Anuj found leftover bread, Neel brough out a bowl of boiled potatoes, steamed cabbage and french beans from the refrigerator. Anu picked out tomatoes and onions from the basket. They surveyed the ingredients and came to the same conclusion. Pav Bhaji!
"But is there butter in the fridge? And, the masala?" Bahadur growled
The vital two ingredients were available and so Bahadur assigned tasks to his team.
Anuj was asked to peel and slice onions. Anu chopped tomatoes, while Neel added butter to the kadhai.
Soon, a delicious aroma wafted through the kitchen. The three exchanged delighted looks.
"Can I have a bite? My stomach's rumbling and grumbling," Anuj said looking down at the sizzling contents in the kadhai.
Bahadur gave him a LOOK and asked Neel to add some more butter and saute the bhaji. He then took the bowl containing chopped coriander leaves and sprinkled them generously over the bhaji. Anu, licking her lips, toasted the bread.
Bahadur and Anuj set the table and then sit down to dig in the deliciously, piping hot snack. It was simply WOW. His mouth full, Anuj blabbered, 'Thanks Bahadur! Mindblowing! This makes me feel good about exams.'
'What?' asked both Neel and Anu.
'This...snacking while studying. I bet I will memorise Maths equations easily,' said Anuj. Their tummies sated they went back to Neel's room and to their respective positions. Words no longer swam before their eyes, they could sit upright and concentrate better, until two hours later, someone yawned and complained that their's stomach was rumbling and grumbling!

Short story - Meeting M

Pizza!' screamed Sharada.
'No pizza! Only sheera,' countered Aniruddha or Ani.
'Ma! You promised to make pizza on the first day of the vacation,' said Sharada, sticking out her tongue at Ani, her older brother by six years.
'Ma! Why don't you order pizza for the baby? And, make sheera for me, huh?,' winked Aniruddha.
Fed up with the constant silly banter, Gayatri had her own tricks to deal with the children. She pulled out the vegetable tray and called out to Sharada.
'Chop them for the topping. And get the pizza base from the bakery,' she said calmly.
With murderous look, Sharada set to chop the vegetables. But, she knew that she won't be 'punished' alone. Soon, Ani was summoned to measure semolina and roast it to perfection. In the kitchen, Ani whistled and hooted and drove his little sister up the wall.
Later Gayatri surprised Sharada by asking her if she had cleaned her room.
At her quizzical expression, Gayatri said, 'Have you forgotten already? Meera is coming to stay with us tomorrow.'
'Ooops! Yes, I will get my room ready,' Sharada jumped to her feet.
'By the way, cleaning your room doesn't mean shoving stuff under your bed,' Ani butted in, neatly dodging the cushion Sharada threw at him.
Meera was their aunt's daughter. Born and brought up in US, Sharada and Ani had met her couple of times, at some uncle's wedding or family get-together.
Next day when Gayatri drove Meera home, she looked a little worried. Seated besides her was Meera, not looking like the 10-year-old girl she was.
Sharada rushed to envelope the girl in a warm hug, when she was rudely pushed away.
'Maasi, who's this wild banshee?'
'Don't you remember Sharada, your cousin?' Gayatri said, signaling Sharada to keep quiet.
'Oh! She has shot up like a palm tree! Look at her hair, all sticking out like blades. Run a comb through your hair, dear!' Meera smiled.
Frowning Sharada stepped back and allowed Meera to move past her, checking out her cousin's short silk skirt, the very adult semi-cultured pearl necklace, and wedges.
Feeling rebellious, Sharada decided to forget welcoming her cousin and instead went to meet friends. Ani had gone for his cricket practise and so didn't meet his grown-up, younger cousin till lunch.
Sharada didn't turn up, preferring to eat at a friend's place, and so Ani enjoyed Meera's affected behaviour all by himself. He nodded with amusement at Meera's request, 'Please call me M. Meera is too raah!'
Ani noticed that M was too polite.
'Maasi...I am sorry, but can I not eat dal, chawal,' she began.
'Maasi, if it's not a problem, can you please order mineral water? I had a tummy upset last week...'
When Sharada trooped in, all muddied after playing a rowdy match of football, Meera squealed, 'Maasi! Look at her! Ugh! She stinks! Go take a shower, Sharada.'
Gayatri again signaled Sharada to stay quiet and pushed her towards the bathroom. At night, after Meera had 'retired' to the bedroom, Sharada asked with a dangerous quiver in her voice, 'How many days more?'
Gayatri replied, 'Ten days'.
Sharada gritted her teeth, while Ani laughed uprorariously.
'Outwit M! Do you need me to tell you how? Think! Think!' Ani winked at Sharada.
Next day, when M was busy unpacking gifts for her cousins, the AC stopped functioning.
'Power supply will be restored in some time Meera', Gayatri soothed her.
But, it didn't. M kept on complaining of the heat, and not having to drink fridge cooled mineral water was driving her crazy.
'I can't wear silks in this weather. Sharada, can you lend me something decent to wear?' she asked.
Sharada choked on her chips and looked up to see M looking harassed. Ani standing behind her, smiled encouragingly.
Clad in Sharada's shorts and tee, Meera looked reassuringly normal. But, soon she was back with her complaint box. This time, however, politeness deserted her,
'I can't stand this heat! Can we go to a mall? Pune has some malls, right?' Meera said.
'We do. But, we stay a long way away from the city. And, Dad has taken the car to office', Ani replied.
'So are we supposed to suffer in this heat!' Meera asked agitatedly.
'You can,' Sharada said trying to keep her tone neutral, 'go to the park and play a few games.'
Meera hesitated before agreeing to join Sharada and her friends. After a riotous game of football, at which Meera was surprisingly very good, the gang of girls headed to an ice cream and juice parlour.
'The litchi soda is magical! Gulp, gulp!' exclaimed Sharada to Meera.
But, Meera was on a different track. 'Sharada, this parlour is right next to your place. How come we got chilled drinks? The refrigerator must have stopped functioning, right?'
Sharada was stumped for a moment, before replying, 'You are right. But, the stores here have generators to supply power, when the regular supply is disrupted.'
'Oh!' nodded Meera in understanding, while Sharada winked at her friends!

Short story - Karishma's secret

A short story for kids.

Karishma's secret

Heard the latest goss?' Annie squealed as soon as she saw me. When I shook my head in negative, Annie proceeded to spill the beans. But, the bell rang for the first period and we entered the classroom. Whatever Annie had to say, was important, because unmindful of Ms Aarti's watchful eyes she turned back to whisper.
'No whispering Annie. Or you and Shweta will have to leave the class and continue talking in the corridor,' said Ms Aarti sternly.
Annie settled down, but I could tell she was bursting to share the news. At break, Annie, Ira and Divya spoke all at the same time. It sounded something like this, 'Karishma...nnsuisususcomingtoschool'. I could only catch the name, Karishma.
'What about Karishma?' I asked.
'Karishma is coming back. Don't look so blank!' Annie exclaimed.
Karishma, the school scholar, who had relocated to Hyderabad last year, would be joining again. I had joined my present school after she left, and so had not met Karishma. But, I had heard a lot about her. Scholar, brainy, multi-tasker, versatile, brilliant – you could add any adjective to her persona and it would suit her. She was truly the wonder kid, just like her name.
In a week's time, Karishma started school and I realised that nothing was impossible for her. She excelled at all. A few days later, during the break, Ira looked a little upset. Her position as class topper was now threatened. Even Divya, a graceful dancer and sought by all the teachers to perform at school functions, looked worried. Karishma with a little guidance could match her steps!
I didn't like the look of them and to cheer to my friends, I said, 'Nothing is impossible you know. Karishma is not a superhuman. She must be average or bad at something.'
Annie quickly replied, 'Find out what Karishma is weak at, and we will do whatever you say. Challenge!'
I was forced to accept the challenge. In a month's time, I realised that my friends were right. Karishma had no chink in her armour. And, frankly, it was difficult to hate her or envy her, because Karishma was pleasant and helpful.
I had almost accepted defeat, when most unexpectedly, I discovered Karishma's secret.
After writing our first term exams, we soon got involved in various competitions before school closed for Diwali vacations. I was a a part of the team making wall paintings along with Karishma. I happened to spill colours on floor and my brush also broke.
Karishma shared her brushes with me and also offered her paintbox.
I forgot to hand her brushes after we finished with the painting and so went over to her house in the evening. Annie and her dog, Sheru, joined me. We met Karishma, who was watering plants in the garden, but instead of waving or greeting us, she just stood still. After Sheru, the big, friendly lab, rushed towards Karishma, she went white in her face. and the water hose hung limp in her hand.
Annie pulled back Sheru, and a trembling Karishma sank in the grass. She began weeping, while Annie and I looked at each other. In between hiccups, Karishma revealed, 'I am scared of dogs, after one Daschund pup bit me. He was being friendly, but I ran and he too chased me.'
I patted her on the back and Annie apologised for Sheru. But Karishma continued sobbing.
'I wish I could overcome this phobia. I have tried several times. It's too embarrassing, when I am around dog owners,' she explained teary-eyed.
My mind was in a swirl. I knew if I revealed Karishma's secret to others, I would win the challenge. But, wasn't I being petty? Karishma was very talented, but at no time, did she boss over us. So I decided to keep her secret. Annie had caught my eye and nodded. She told Karishma, 'No worries! I will help you get over the phobia.'
Karishma looked up and smiled , 'No harm in trying yet again.'
'I am sure that you soon be a dog lover and an expert at training the canine too!' Annie

Book Review - Talking Cinema

Name: Talking Cinema
By: Bhawana Somaaya
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers India
Price: Rs 299
Pages: 222

Every Friday, a new God or Goddess appear on the screen and soon enough their faithful multiply. We love, eat, drink and perhaps even pray in Bollywood ishtyle. Going beyond these cliches is Bhawana Somaaya's, Talking Cinema that captures the 'thinking aloud' moments of actors and film-makers, whose work has become the barometer of Indian cinema's history.
Most of the interviews were done in early 2000, when Indian cinema was in a flux. And, it's that changing mindset of film-makers and actors, Somaaya hopes to capture in this book. Talking Cinema succeeds in its objective, besides getting the timing right too – we are celebrating the centenary of Indian cinema.
The Q & A format of the book might at the outset seem pedantic and prosaic. But, it's not. Most of the questions posed to the actors and film-makers are simple and uniform, but have been answered differently, going beyond the breezy cheerfulness that you encounter in cinema reporting.
Somaaya has succeeded in getting the actors to drop their guard; as the interview progresses, their choice of words become more candid, revealing and honest. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan on being asked on the definition of good performance, says, “This may sound like a cliché, but I don't think there can be a fixed definition.... Acting is a complex exercise and works differently for different people. I am often criticized for being Shah Rukh Khan in all my films. My argument is that even if I do bare all, is it about being different or being about yourself? For fourteen years, I have exhibited bits and pieces of me on celluloid. The day I feel I have exposed myself completely and have nothing more to offer, I will pack up. Such a time can be described as creative salvation or it can be called burn-out.”
The Q & A format also enables you to begin reading from any page and even skipping some of the interviews, if you are not interested in reading the work philosophy of the actors/film-makers.
The only count on which the author could have bettered the book is by widening her choice of interviewees. For instance in the 'Director's Cut' section, Sudhir Mishra or Vidhu Vinod Chopra's approach their craft could have made an interesting read. Only one 'Badhshah' Khan has been featured, with Aamir Khan and Salman Khan missing from 'An Actor Prepares' or 'Character Speak' segment. No one from the regional cinema has been featured, barring Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam (of course it's their work in Bollywood, that's the talking point). Barring these glitches, it's a book to be read, if you want to understand what makes our cinema tick.

New home for the arts

Gyaan Adab, the newest literary space in the city. A report

Does Pune, a thriving place when it comes to literary meets, dance and music performances, really need another centre which is going to bring all the arts under one roof? Well, Gyaan Adab, the newest addition to the literature spaces, promises the usual perks, but also tweaks some norms.
Entrepreneur, innovator Farook Merchant and his wife Nasima, whose brain child the centre is, say that Gyaan Adab will be accessible to both classes and masses. The centre, which is in process of registering itself as a charitable trust, is at present offering all its services free.
The pet project of Gyaan Adab is the 'mohalla libraries'. Merchant explains, “Our team will fan out in the city and get at least one contact person, preferably a lady in different parts, including the settlement, who will be the monitor of that area. We are going to provide the monitor and other residents she ropes in with a stack of books. Every three months we will provide them with new books. All we hope is to get them to pick up a book and read.”
Gyaan Adab is also open to book worms walk in, borrow books, and spend their day at centre's reading room. There's also space for research students to take down notes or pore over books in a secluded room.
Randhi Khare, who's Honourable Director, Programmes at Gyaan Adab, says there are going to be four calendar events related to literature and art in a month and more impromptu sessions where poets and writer can read out from their books, interact with the audience and seek feedback. There's an art gallery too where artistes can put up their work.

Drop by at Gyaan Adab, Kalyani Nagar from Tuesday to Sunday between 10 am to 7 pm.

Multiply books
Donate your books to Gyaan Adab and also recommend your favourites. The team at Gyaan Adab will be happy to include it in their collection. At present, they have 2,000 books in their library. By year end, they hope to reach the number of 10,000.
Spread the word
At present readers can borrow titles in Marathi, Urdu and English. They plan to spread the written word in more languages.
Read, hear and perform
Upcoming artistes, here's your chance! For a critical feedback, head to Gyaan Adab.
A place for kids
Gyaan Adab will also encourage children to read through activities like drawing, theatre and forming book clubs.

Advisory Committee
Mohini Khot
Satish Khot
Mumtaz Peerbhoy
Dnyanada Naik
Gyaan Adab's windows are open to all influences. It's going to be a dynamic play of words, music and images.
Randhir Khare

This is going to be a apolitical and areligious venture. We want to bring back the spotlight on our rich vernacular history. We don't intend to compete with other literature and art space in the city. Rather, we wish to collaborate.
Farook Merchant

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sisters! - Short story

Hdg: As different as cheese and chalk

God! what a clatter! Slow down, you tornado', said Shama. Only no one heard her speak. It wasn't because the clattering feet of Divya, who rushed up the stairs to their flat, drowned out her words. It was because Shama hadn't said the words aloud.
Shama, older to Divya by two years, had always been quiet and soft-spoken. Divya was boisterous and too loud for Shama. Soon Divya overshadowed Shama, deciding for two of them and readily agreed to by their parents.
Shama, however, didn't meekly acquiesced to Divya. Shama continued doing things she wanted to do, quietly. No one, not even Divya noticed, because Shama was largely ignored.
Left to herself, Shama was happy, if trifle sad. Realising that her opinion don't matter and hardly anyone took note of what she said, Shama kept up a constant dialogue with herself. And, when she thought her brain would burst with conversation spilling out, Shama took to writing.
She wrote whenever she felt like. Until, Sheela Miss came to teach creative writing to her class in the second term, it didn't occur to Shama that she should show her work to someone.
Young, friendly and gentle Sheela Miss discovered that there was a budding writer in her class and encouraged Shama to write her thoughts more effectively. Shama enjoyed the process, basking in her teacher's praise.
And, then came the biggest surprise of the year. The school's annual gathering was announced with just one change. This year students were to shoulder responsibility with teachers – in writing, getting costumes and prop ready, roping in actors/actress....the works!
Shama was thrilled when Sheela Miss chose her to write a play, alongwith a few seniors. She was so busy, brain-storming and writing and drafting the play, that she had no clue that Divya was chosen to play the role of princess, in her play.
It came as a shock to Shama when one evening, Divya announced to her parents and relatives, that she was going to play the princess in school play. She also proceeded to enact it, while Shama watched with her jaws dropping.
'Stop it! Princess Pia is sweet, gentle and courageous and what you are doing is a terrible imitation of a spoilt brat', Shama's voice rang out clearly and firmly.
Divya stopped, her hand clapping her mouth in shock, while her parents and relatives were stunned.
'Look...Divya. What you are doing is wrong! Be a little more....' Shama went back to speaking gently, but firmly.
Divya and others, who were in a daze, didn't stop to think about how Shama knew about Princess Pia. Next few days, Divya went over to Shama with her lines and learnt to deliver them with perfect expressions too.
On the day of the annual gathering, Divya shone as Princess Pia, while her parents beamed in the audience. At the end, they sought out Sheela Miss to thank her for giving Divya the main role.
Sheela Miss was happy to meet Divya's parents and said that the role of princess was conceived and developed by a student in her class.
She called out to Shama, much to her parents bewilderment. Shama too was puzzled on seeing her parents and Divya with her teacher. Sheela Miss then presented Shama to her parents and said, 'Shama shared the responsibility of writing the play along with two other students. The characterisation of Pia was solely her idea, Divya.'
Stunned into silence for a few minutes, Divya then rushed to Shama and enveloped her into a bear hug.
'Thanks Shama,' Divya whispered.
When Divya freed Shama from her embrace, the latter's eyes were shining with happiness. She had not only found her voice, but her darling sister too.

Smile away your fears (Short Story)

Hdg: Smile away your fears

Her large eyes dilated with fear when Shruti Miss announced a class picnic to loud whoops and clapping from other students. Like every year, the picnic was to be held at an amusement park on the outskirts of the city; Sneha remembering last year's troubled times at the picnic immediately put in her pleas to God, requesting that He give her a tummy upset or a headache... Anything that would make her home-bound.
A year ago, Sneha joined her new school in a new city. But, she didn't fit in. In the first few days her classmates turned away from her, thinking on these lines - 'Sneha is too smart!', 'What an over-enthu girl! New students must be seen and not heard, 'Sneha who? You mean the 'pizza face'. What about her?'
At the annual picnic, all the negative vibes combined to make it the worst day of her life. Sneha heard herself being addressed as 'pizza face'. When she confronted the addresser, Sneha found herself friendless, she didn't have too many friends to begin with. She was kept out of all group activities and if the teachers insisted on her presence, she would be given a royal ignore by other fellows.
After coming back from the nightmarish picnic, Sneha withdrew into a shell and studied and worked all day. No wonder that made Sneha a dull girl. So, this year's announcement of annual picnic succeeded in reliving the nightmarish hours.
'What would be in store this year?' thought Sneha as she walked home.
No headache, no fever and no tummy ache either. Feeling let down by Him, Sneha readied for the picnic. Ticking off the essentials on her list, Sneha called out to her father, 'I am ready. Let's go.'
When Sneha reached the school, the school bus was trembling on its wheels – kids jumping in and out, clambering up with cartons full of juice, fruits and goodies, teachers shouting instructions – it was a chaotic scene.
Sneha's father unloaded her stuff and waving her good bye, his car sped off. Quiet as a mouse, Sneha sneaked into the bus and made for the last seat. Sneha's face hidden by the seat before her, she exhaled slowly. A slight movement in the corner alerted her. Her large eyes met timid ones.
'Hi Sneha! Remember me?' the boy smiled feebly.
Sneha blinked. 'Are you in my class?'
'We were together in New Horizon...our last school,' the boy continued.
'Aniket! What are you doing here?' Sneha shrieked.
'I have been in your class since five months. You didn't notice,' Aniket's smile grew more wider.
'No..hmm', Sneha looked sheepish.
'You look so serious and solemn. I wondered if it's the same Sneha. You were so bouncy and chirpy,' Aniket asked.
Sneha kept quiet.
'It's a little different here, isn't it. Not like our old school,' he asked. Sneha nodded in agreement.
'So, aren't you playing football any more? You captained the New Horizon,' Sneha asked. It felt so good to talk to someone!
'I am. Not in school though. The boys wouldn't let me be a part of the team,' he said with a tinge of sadness.
Sneha knew the feeling all too well. The rest of the journey passed in a blur with Sneha and Aniket talking and laughing easily. They didn't notice the surprised looks their classmates exchanged.
At the amusement park, they hung out together and when it came to participating in team games, Sneha and Aniket volunteered as partners. They won some and lost some, but always with a smile.
Aniket and Sneha knew they had nothing to fear, because they had a friend to see them through bad times.

Another short story for children

Hdg: Act, don't preach!

“Look at them...what noise they make,” Siya scowled staring into the room whose walls resounded with peals of laughter.
Peering over her shoulders were Siya's cousins – Chiu (Chitra), Mak (Makarand), Rutu, Neetu, Sachu (Sachin), Sanju (Sanjana) – flummoxed that the adults in the room, their parents and aunts and uncles could create cacophony.
Chiu, who was the youngest of the lot, pushed the others away and retreated into another corner. To think, to puzzle over. Her otherwise prim and proper mother, Geeta, couldn't control her laughter. And, nor could Golu mama (Niranjan) who was said to be the brains of the family. Golu mama's example was trotted out every time one of the kids didn't fare well during the exams.
Siya, who was meeting her cousins and uncles and aunts after a long gap, too was confused at what she had seen. Instead of pondering over it, she shrugged, went to her room, pulled out her earphones and listened to music. Her cousins too went their own way; Mak got busy with his car models, Sachu and Sanju sprawled before the TV, Neetu and Rutu started playing games on the mobile.
Only Chiu remained behind. Quiet and unobtrusive, she slipped into the room and listened to the talk and laughter floating around. Only, when some one mentioned dinner that she slipped out of the room.
Next day, when the youngsters met for breakfast, they started gossiping about their parents.
Siya was the first one to scowl and launch into her grievance, after Meeta her mother chided her for plugging earphones at the dining table.
“I like that! I bet she doesn't follow the rules that she makes for me. For us. Our parents, I mean.”
Others followed suit with their complaints.
Chiu, who was listening to their conversation, said quietly, “Bet, you can't do half the things they do.”
“What do you mean?” the cousins turned to her.
“Golu mama...” Chiu began before she was cut mid-way by Mak.
“Oh please! Don't talk about Baba. I have heard enough of his exploits. I am his son, alright” said Mak.
“What have you heard? Chiu asked.
Rolling their eyes, the other kids listed out on their fingers, 'Class IV, Class VII scholarship, SSC, HSC topper, Distinction in medical college and now he presents papers at the international fora.'
Chiu yawned and the kids stopped.
“That's stale, you know. Golu mama is an expert marble player; he sings well and was the only one who played pranks on Ajo.”
“Liar! How do you know? And, no one played pranks on Ajo. He was a terror,” remembering the stories they had hear about their strict grandfather.
“Okay about this. No one could beat Meeta attya in climbing trees. She was also good with catapult, better than Aniruddha mama and Golu mama. And, yes, my mother outrode other cyclists. She and Golu mama beat others at cards. They make a good team,” said Chiu.
“How do you know?” Siya asked her again.
“You all should have stayed back in the room,” she replied.
“You mean to say, you eavesdropped on their conversation,” asked Siya horrified.
“Well, I stayed back in the room and listened. You don't call that eavesdropping. And, anyway, you could have also listened to it, if you had paid attention,” Chiu defended herself.
“Stay back tonight,” she added.
And, when the night came, they did stay back with their parents and aunts and uncles.
If their parents were surprised, then they didn't show it. As the night wore on amidst laughter, rib-tickling performances by their parents, the kids also learnt afresh a few lessons.
Listening to Meeta's stories of climbing trees and playing seven tiles in vacation, Siya realised why her mother couldn't understand the term 'boredom'.
Talk also veered towards Golu mama's stellar performance in school. What made it stellar and an example to be emulated, was the fact that Niranjan walked eight kilometres to school and back, in rain, in sunshine and in winter.
'How come I didn't know this?' Mak asked himself.
And, Geeta attya and Aniruddha mama remembered how easy it was to follow in Golu mama's footsteps. He had set a high example before his siblings, not just by excelling in studies, but by coaching weaker children of his village.
The night was an eye-opener for the kids. They did realise that their parents didn't preach many things they practised. Sometimes it's enough to just act than talk!

Game for it!

This is one of the first few short stories that I have written for a children's weekly. Feedback, please!

Game for it!

Sharada dragged herself unwillingly from the classroom. She wasn't ready to face anyone; least of all, herself. 'I'm a failure'...the words drummed up in her ears, soon reaching a crescendo. Sharada's face had gone red and her eyes shone with tears, slowly trickling down her face.
When she reached home, she quickly dashed to her room. The small sprint had her huffing and puffing and reminded her of the dismal performance on the school ground. Sharada was not good at sports, but she wasn't mocked on the field either. But, that day she was BAD.
She had finished last in the 400 mt sprint and her long jump...well, let's not even talk about it. Sharada knew the reason, but wasn't willing to accept that her weight had played the spoil sport.
Somehow, from the beginning of this academic year, Sharada grew big. Put it down to her summer quota of hogging chips and not even lifting her finger to swat the flies. Her parents, especially her father, was keeping a strict eye on her. Sharada knew his plans for her and was determined to foil them.
But, she hadn't reckoned with the results of the sports week being e-mailed to parents and so two days later, Sharada was huffing and puffing while trying to keep pace with her father's jog. Sharada's father was a complete outdoor person. He refused to listen to Sharada's pleas that the sports week, physical examination test was over for the year.
“We will prepare for the next year, and the year after that,” he had told Sharada.
And, so every day, Sharada was either jogging or going on a brisk walk. In the evening, she was forced to play ring and badminton or cycle with friends. On week-ends, Sharada was climbing the hillocks, and picnicking under a shady tree.
A month passed and Sharada's groans and moans had considerably lessened. In fact she was able to keep pace with her father while jogging and walking. She presented a picture of healthy glow and cheery happiness.
After her annual exams finished, she surprised everyone, including herself, by signing up for a trek in the Sahyadris. Her excitement to learn and the exercise routine ensured that Sharada didn't lag and chose misery for her company.
When Sharada came back home, she suggested that her father could start a club. A club for her friends who could take up some sport or outdoor activity. Guess what was her father's reaction? He was game for it!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Story Teller

Nell Phoenix, who performed a story and also conducted a workshop in the art for the Pune audience,shares her theories on the art of story-telling

* The English countryside with its castle, church and cave came alive because of your performance today. Why is performance so important for a story?
I am a performer first and so I simply cannot read aloud a story from a book. I first began performing a story for kids when the teacher of my son's pre-school asked me to do something for the class. I asked her 'what' and she said 'tell a story.' So I came prepared with a white sheet to create an impression of winter. I told them the story of Oscar Wilde's A Selfish Giant. They got very involved and the teacher was suitably impressed to refer me to other pre-schools and then primary schools. Children are entranced by images and that's the cure for short attention span.

* You have been hopping from Ahmedabad to Delhi and now to Pune, to share your stories with the Indian audience comprising adults and kids. How do you decide which story will charm the very different audience?
Well, I have a vast repertoire of stories to depend on. What matters most is the space and the mind-set of the audience. In this session, at The British Library, the audience was mostly adults and younger kids, so I had to keep everyone happy. I decided to choose a story in which children could participate, and take adults back to their childhood. This was an informal setting, so I could move around, interacting with the kids. In Delhi, it was more formal setting. I had also come with the impression that the Indian audience might be more reserved, but that was an incorrect notion.

* In India, it is widely believed that the stories for kids should teach them values and morals. Comment.
Not just Indian audience, but people on the whole are looking for meaning in the stories they hear or read. We are by nature, curious, investigative and always looking for a sign. Stories have to establish a human connect and so I would say the lesson or teaching have to be imbibed by everyone on their own. It has to come naturally. What I take away from the story, might be different from the way you related to it.

* What makes a good story then?
A story is considered good, if it engages the audience. If the story is meant for children, then I would say that it should offer balance. They should not go back home with the thought that their world is in disorder. I have often been asked why should children stories begin with 'Once upon a time..' or 'Long, long ago' and end with, 'They lived happily after.' I would like to clarify that these are not cliche. They offer a differentiating point – whatever unpleasant things that occurred in the story, happened long ago. The gore and violence highlight the fact that it is evil and will always be overcome by good. Teenagers prefer something dark and for adults any story that suspends their critical faculty is good.

* Most parents today don't have time to read aloud stories to their children. Do you think story clubs or public performances that involve both children and adults is necessary to keep us more rooted?
Stories have to be shared. In England we have seen a revival of oral story-telling. We have several story-telling clubs; I also started my own club 6 years ago. Earlier, we were booked for four nights a month and now we perform/tell stories almost every night.
I am not against the idea of reading aloud from story books. But, on some nights, parents could keep the book aside and just dig into their memories and share something original. This could trigger an exchange between the two generations and the elders might learn of some incident that took place in school. Some thing that was not mentioned at dining table.

Bride & Prejudice

This is an interview with Shazaf Fatima Haider. --- Debutant novelist, Shazaf Fatima Haider's book, How it Happened is a refreshing take on arranged vs love marriage in Pakistani society.

a) A lot has been written about wedding and its sub-plots. Did you fear that your work might be lost in all the clutter? I was writing for myself at the time, so the ‘clutter’ was not a problem. When I decided to get it published, I looked around for books that wrote about the process of getting married, and whatever I came across was morose and morbid. The ‘raped into matrimony’ or ‘she was a child-bride’, themes abounded. Many people around me talked about the shortcomings of arbitrarily arranging a match based on a few standard externalities, but no one seemed to be writing about it. The focus of my book is different from other books I came across.

b) Was choosing a humorous tone for the book deliberate considering weddings whip up frenzy of emotions? The humor came naturally. I was going through the whole drawing-room process (boy meets the girl and her family) at the time I wrote the book. I was completely sick of the process and I had reached a stage where I was too tired to be angry. When anger dissolves, humour takes its place. Humour helps us minimize and put into place what anger distorts and magnifies. Humour was a fortunate reflex, yes.

c) The Shia-Sunni is the dominant theme of the book. Did you expect trouble with the moral policing? If you think about it, the Shia-Sunni aspect is a pretext for getting the ball in motion. I didn’t want to talk about different sects, I wanted to talk about common humanity – the unity of being a person with feelings and emotions. The only ‘match’ that needs to be made is between similar personalities with similar world views. Since that was my focus, I didn’t expect trouble. And I didn’t get any.

d) The book, refreshingly, doesn't touch on terrorism, Taliban and the politics. Would your future work too steer clear from the stereotypes associated with Pakistan? You know, I might just tackle the stereotypes to explore them. But my second book is also completely free of politics.

e) The book has been labelled as 'another Pride & Prejudice'. Do you agree? How flattering! Well, I can see how the Austen references I’ve put in can remind one of Pride & Prejudice. But there’s no Mr. Darcy – Omer (the boy whom Zeba gets married to) isn’t a central character. Neither is Zeba, a Elizabeth Bennet. I was more interested in Dadi and Saleha and what motivates people to put their loved ones through the rigmarole of what can be a very embarrassing and often demeaning process.

f) Do you think a glossary was necessary in the book? Many non-Muslims might have trouble in understanding the specific terms like Majlis and Istikhara.
I think the people of the sub-continent would understand easily; but yes, there are some terms that could escape those with a limited knowledge of Islam and Muslim cultural life. However, the plot, characters and themes are still apparent even without knowledge of what these terms mean. Moreover, an astute reader can guess what’s happening because while there is no glossary definition, there is plenty of description to allow the reader to orient himself with the situation.

g) The subplots of the book can be adapted for the big screen. Have you received any offers? Not yet. Karan Johar, if you’re reading this: call me! Box The story unfolds through the eyes and ears of Saleha Bandian, younger sibling of Haroon and Zeba whose marriages throw the Bandian household in a tizzy. The conflicting views on marriage – Haroon and Zeba's Dadi dismisses the love aspect, while her grandchildren want to marry for love and shared interests – elicits chuckles from the readers and a sense of deja vu!

A dialogue on cinema

This book review appeared in print last Sunday. --- Name: Talking Cinema By: Bhawana Somaaya Published by: HarperCollins Publishers India Price: Rs 299 Pages: 222 Every Friday, a new God or Goddess appear on the screen and soon enough their faithful multiply. We love, eat, drink and perhaps even pray in Bollywood ishtyle. Going beyond these cliches is Bhawana Somaaya's, Talking Cinema that captures the 'thinking aloud' moments of actors and film-makers, whose work has become the barometer of Indian cinema's history. Most of the interviews were done in early 2000, when Indian cinema was in a flux. And, it's that changing mindset of film-makers and actors, Somaaya hopes to capture in this book. Talking Cinema succeeds in its objective, besides getting the timing right too – we are celebrating the centenary of Indian cinema. The Q & A format of the book might at the outset seem pedantic and prosaic. But, it's not. Most of the questions posed to the actors and film-makers are simple and uniform, but have been answered differently, going beyond the breezy cheerfulness that you encounter in cinema reporting. Somaaya has succeeded in getting the actors to drop their guard; as the interview progresses, their choice of words become more candid, revealing and honest. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan on being asked on the definition of good performance, says, “This may sound like a cliché, but I don't think there can be a fixed definition.... Acting is a complex exercise and works differently for different people. I am often criticized for being Shah Rukh Khan in all my films. My argument is that even if I do bare all, is it about being different or being about yourself? For fourteen years, I have exhibited bits and pieces of me on celluloid. The day I feel I have exposed myself completely and have nothing more to offer, I will pack up. Such a time can be described as creative salvation or it can be called burn-out.” The Q & A format also enables you to begin reading from any page and even skipping some of the interviews, if you are not interested in reading the work philosophy of the actors/film-makers. The only count on which the author could have bettered the book is by widening her choice of interviewees. For instance in the 'Director's Cut' section, Sudhir Mishra or Vidhu Vinod Chopra's approach their craft could have made an interesting read. Only one 'Badhshah' Khan has been featured, with Aamir Khan and Salman Khan missing from 'An Actor Prepares' or 'Character Speak' segment. No one from the regional cinema has been featured, barring Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam (of course it's their work in Bollywood, that's the talking point). Barring these glitches, it's a book to be read, if you want to understand what makes our cinema tick.