Shree Ramakrishna’s Gospel

May 10, 2009

Book Review: The gospel of Shree Ramakrishna

This is the perfect book for the intellectual and the confused spiritual seeker. For it has a one point direction: from the head to the heart. Where it leaves you, singing and dancing,  within and without.

The Gospel of Shree Ramakrishna is a big book, in fact it is two fat volumes. With a book this big, the first impulse is to open it in the middle somewhere and start reading. Not a good idea. This story deserves to be read from the beginning, for that is where the punch is.

M., or Mahendranath Gupta, the author, was a learned man, or so he thought. On his first visit to the Master, he is deeply charmed by the eloquence in Ramakrishna’s words. ‘He must be well read,’ is M.’s response. He is shocked that the Master hasn’t read a single book in his life.

But the taste of bliss in his gut brings him back to Dakshineshwar the next morning, when the Master is getting shaved.

The second meeting is more intimate, with a one to one conversation.

Sri Ramakrishna: Are you married?

M: Yes Sir.

Sri Ramakrishna (with a shudder): Oh, Ramlal! Alas, he is married!

Like one guilty of a terrible offence, M. sat motionless, his eyes on the ground. He thought, ‘Is it such a wicked thing to be married?’

The Master(continues): ‘Have you any children?’

M. this time could hear the beating of his own heart.

M. (whispers in a trembling voice): ‘Yes, sir, I have children.’

Very sadly, Sri Ramakrishna says,

‘Ah me! He even has children!’

Thus rebuked, M. sat speechless. His pride had received a blow. After a few minutes, the Master looked at him kindly and said,

‘You see, you have certain good signs. I know them by looking at a person’s face. Tell me, what king of person is your wife? Has she spiritual attributes, or is she under the power of avidya?’

M.: She is alright. But I am afraid she is ignorant.

Master: (with evident displeasure) And you are a man of knowledge?

M had yet to learn the distinction between knowledge and ignorance. He was under the impression, as we all are, that you get knowledge from books and schools. Later he learnt from the Master that to know God is knowledge and to not know him is ignorance.

This is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book, when M. meets the master. There is hardly any reference to M at all after this. M simply records everything as he saw and heard as he sat quietly at Sri Ramakrishna’s feet.

Sri Ramakrishna is basically oriented towards the devotional aspect of spirituality. However, he does not prescribe rituals of devotion. What he prescribes is an intense yearning for God. ‘Cry to God with all your heart and you shall surely see him.’

This one sentence, if taken to heart, can be extremely cathartic in nature. ‘Crying to God’, done on a regular basis, can turn the mind within. It can also become a hotline to the Maker.

When he meets someone for the first time, the master asks, ‘So do you believe in God with form or do you believe in the formless aspect of God?’ The utter simplicity and clarity in this question reveals the understanding of Sri Ramakrishna: he is the embodiment of the meeting of Gyana and Bhakti.

This book is a witness to the happening of another saint, Swami Vivekananda. Ramakrishna displays more than a simple affection for Narendra, the Guru literally pines for his disciple.

After all, he has a big job to do there: passing on the legacy of the inner spirit of India.

What I didn’t like about the book:

Ramakrishna was guileless; he lacked the sophistication of the city dweller. He is supposed to have used a lot of off-color jokes which were edited out of the English version. Somehow this goes against the spirit of the book, which is basically the complete flow of the master’s words, unedited, even by the master himself.

What I liked about the book:

There is story about Swami Vivekananda and the mother Kali. After the demise of his father, Swamiji was facing a very rough patch at home. He was jobless and the kitchen fire was out. Sri Ramakrishna advised him to go to the Mother’s temple and ask for her help. She who runs the universe will surely give him a job, some stable income to feed his family.

Instead of asking for the vitamin M, all Swamiji could ask for were devotion and knowledge. Again and again he went, each time he forgot. Finally he realised that the master was playing a trick on him. He was teaching him that the only things worth asking from the Goddess, were spiritual.

I feel that Sri Ramkrishna’s blessings work like this trick in this book. Once you get hooked to it, the rose tint enters your eyes. Life is not the same again.


The biography of Paramhamsa Nithyananda Vol 1

May 1, 2009

Nithyananda

(Glimpses from the biography of Paramhamsa Nithyananda) Vol 1

Review :

This is a biography of a contemporary spiritual teacher, Swami Nithyananda. It spans the period between his birth to when he was seventeen years old and left his home to take up the wondering life. In today’s age, seventeen is a time when youngsters are all geared up to study for a lucrative career. But Nithyananda took the vow of not touching money and embarked alone on the coolest trip possible, a barefoot pilgrimage across India.

We all know the value and the power of money. It is the one thing we strive for, almost all our life. In all honesty, education and choice of career, has but one guiding spirit: the goddess of wealth. And not without reason, it is money that comes in handy, it is the obvious solution for most of life’s struggles.

Then why and how do some people consciously give it all up, where does the trust in existence, the sheer guts to face hunger day in and day out, stem from? The most hyped example of running away for enlightenment is of course that of the Buddha. He made the mistake of marrying and then the seeking took over.

Closer home, we have life-stories of masters like Shirdi Sai Baba, but his pre-Shirdi days are shrouded in mystery. Ramana Maharishi, while giving us a sketch of the events that led up to his death experience (read enlightenment), was too silent a sage to provide us with juicy details. Which is why, a childhood re-lived, of a popular enlightened master is a rare treat.

The smartest move this soul made was to be born in a place so holy, that no one interfered with his spiritual progress: Tiruvannamalai, the town in Tamil Nadu which has the biggest temple in Asia, and lies in the shadow of the mountain, Arunachala. The mountain is referred to as a spiritual incubator.

When he was a child, Nithyananda began as an artist. He sculpted idols of gods and goddesses with clay. And, like the other saints of yesterday, the child insisted that his clay idols eat the food he offered them. After three days of fasting, one idol compiled!

How does a three year old boy get a Guru? The Guru seeks the evolved soul and bribes him with candies. Nithyanandas parents are the coolest couple one can hope to parent a weird child. When the neighbor complains that she saw the kid sitting in the graveyard, the mother nonchalantly says, ‘So what? He is not disturbing you, is he?’

Somehow the boy goes through school and enrolls into a mechanical college. Unlike other youngsters, his favorite pastime is meditation, pranayama, all that. When a roommate asks him why he is wasting his time, Nithyananda replies, ‘You will know when you stand in line for my darshan one day.’

The climax of the narrative is when he asks his mother if he can leave home, without any plans to return.

The flow is deep and reflective; the book seems to be written by a devotee of the Swami.

What I didn’t like about the book:

At each stage, there is an explanation and a justification about that which is not scientifically accepted, which was not really necessary.  A straight account of the story, I feel, might have made a bigger impact.

What I liked about the book:

The book ends rather abruptly, when the seventeen year old leaves his home town. Somehow this serves as an ignition point that awakens a keen interest in the wondering life. In your imagination, the book doesn’t end, because a journey has just begun…

{ Published by Life Bliss Foundation, ISBN 193436414-2 }


Trust me, by Rajashree

March 10, 2009

Trust me is a book for the young Indian dame, on the brink of her life. Are you wondering whether to live in a city alone? Do you experiment with life such that you cants talk openly with folks back home? And most importantly, are you glamour struck, with the glitzy filmy world?
This book is a must for every young woman with stars in her eyes who wants to make it big in the film world. Forewarned is forearmed.
Our protagonist has a filmy name: Paro, short for Parvati. With a name like that, it’s not surprising that the book begins with heartbreak. Paro, has just had an abortion. Her boyfriend ditched her, and her mother is too old fashioned to be confided in. So she is in a bad mood, and she doesn’t care to hide it. She doesn’t know how to deal with it either, so she confides in her boss, who turns out to be a lecherous old man. So what happens next? Our girl is twice as pissed, and walks out of the job. In the typical Mumbai fashion, she has to take whatever work that comes up next, a job as an assistant director, in a typical bollywood masala movie.

Paro meets Rahul, a younger, fresher specimen, with feet firmly planted in the heroism of the filmy heros. He sings, dances, flirts, and above all, he knows not to hide his love. Although his character comes through as stupid and clichéd, he has one thing going for him: a mind without the slightest doubt. A man who knows only one thing, that he loves his woman. The ultimate weapon that can win a woman’s heart-mind-soul. How long can Paro resist him?

Sample this conversation which occurs in the middle of a shooting schedule, during a lunch hour when Paro is painting the set.

‘What do you think of It’, I said, stepping back.
‘It looks, well, kind of… like a cat.’ (said Rahul.)
I’d been painting a depiction of Shiva and Shakti.
‘You could have said something worse, I suppose. Though I can’t think of much.’
‘Oh, it’s not so bad. I like cats,’ he said.
‘I prefer dogs.’
‘I know what you mean. Dogs are loving, trusting creatures. You know what the trouble with cats is? If a cat sits on a hot stove once, she won’t sit on a hot stove again. But the problem is, she won’t sit on a cold stove either.’

Their romance unravels as the delicate balance of trust and
passion heal Paro’s wounded pride.

Trust is a perennial issue that most of us are plagued with to some degree or the other. The author has delved into the issue of human boundaries with a simplicity that is as profound as it is clichéd.

There is story in the book of the North Star, Dhruv Tara, which serves as a beautiful metaphor for the yearning for security.

What I didn’t like about the book:

There is an apparent contradiction in the moral of the story. The title in the book asks us to trust, and so does the theme, but the atmosphere around the protagonist is totally untrustworthy. Set in bollywood, trust as an element, is least likely to endure.

What I liked about the book:
Among all the colorful characters in the film industry, there is one person who seems true, self respecting. But he is caught in the web of bollywood; an old, has been script-writer, Munshiji. Munshiji has ‘adjusted’ to the stupidity in the approach to the narrative structure in Hindi films.

It is through this character that the writer reveals herself. Bad or good, cinema is cinema. The creative tension that the old scriptwriter balances and plays with, is the actual dedication of the book.

The language has a smooth flow; it sprinkles on with a rhythm of a mountain stream.

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““

Interview with Rajashree, author of Trust Me.

Q.1.You are a trained film maker. How did you think of writing a novel?

The writing bug bit me much before the film bug. I have always wanted
to write a novel.

Q. 2. Always means since childhood?

Oh yes. In fact, it started with me failing in first standard. I
remember not understanding anything the teacher wrote on the
blackboard in the exam. It was a case of ‘Kala akshar bhais barabar!’
Someone told my mother that if you want to educate your kids in the
English medium, you better take some effort to teach them. Not that my
mother took me to task for failing. My sister, who is three years
older, distributed sweets because she had passed, and I distributed
sweets because I had failed. So it was quite cool to fail.

But after that I learnt pretty fast. The first novel I read was
‘Coffee Tea Or Me Girls Get Away From It All’. I must have been only
eight years old. I didn’t understand much but even then I was
tenacious enough to read it completely.

Q. 3. How did you get hold of a ‘Coffee Tea Or Me’ book at such a young age?
I don’t know, it does seem inappropriate. It must have been lying
around the house. But after that I started reading Enid Blyton. I must
have been nine when I wrote out a ‘list of characters’ for a novel. We
had joined a library and I loved reading books. So naturally, I wanted
to write a novel.
Q. 4.  There is an apparent contradiction in Trust Me. Does it ask us
to trust each other or to be careful or what?

The way I see it, the book is about getting over distrust and learning
to trust again. But I am not asking anyone to trust blindly.
Basically, trust is about predicting people’s behavior.

Q.5. What kind of responses did you get to your novel? Did anyone
decide not to come to the Mumbai film industry after reading ‘Trust
me’?
Oh, I hope not. I certainly did not intend to turn anybody off about
the film industry. The kind of responses I got were quite positive.
The one that comes to mind is a Times Of India reporter from Delhi.
She told me that she started reading my novel in the office and
couldn’t put it down, so she went and sat on the back staircase of the
office so that no one would disturb her when she read it.

Q.6. Why do happy endings succeed so much? Why do we all like happy endings?

Well, not all bestsellers have happy endings. Tragedies like Love
Story also succeed. But tragedies have to be really good to do well.
They have to make you cry.
But yes, mostly people like to be happy so they like happy endings. A
book generally should have both emotions, because we like to cry and
then we want to go to bed happy.

Q. 7.  What is your take on the genre ‘Chick lit’? Do you think you
have written a chick lit book?

Although I don’t like the phrase, ‘Chick- lit’, I do enjoy reading
this genre of books.
I wouldn’t like to be called a ‘Chick-lit’ writer, but I wouldn’t go
on a morcha to get the name changed. I can live with it.
I would say that ‘Trust me’ falls into the genre of romantic comedy.

Q. 8. You have spiced the language with a lot of Indian flavor. Please comment.

Yes, it was a conscious attempt, to write the way Indians speak.
Although we have a style of speaking, it is derived from what we read,
which is mostly from the west. So the influence of British English and
American English continues, as does the sprouting of words from our
regional languages when we talk.

Q. 9 ‘Trust me’ has turned out to be the number 1 bestseller in Indian Chic-lit. What is your formula for success?

I don’t have a formula, but I can reflect upon why I think it succeeded. It is a romantic comedy set in the Bombay film industry. It uses the narrative structure of a typical bollywood film and people enjoyed that. Also, since it was priced at Rs. 95 only, a lot of people picked it up.

Q.10. Ok, Rajashree. Last question: Who are your favorite authors, books?

Bridget Jones’ Diary, by Helen Fielding, To Kill a Mockingbird by
Harper Lee, and Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola
Estes are books I can read again and again. I like a short story by
Chekov: Lament. Among the Indian writers, I like Arundhati Roy. I
recently read Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger which I found
mind-blowing.


No full stops in India

January 21, 2009

Review

The cover of this book shows a couple of sadhus in the morning sun, reading the newspaper. One of them is reclining on the back of a car, the other is standing. This cover indicates how the media, the press, is entering the space that is supposed to be sacred, the mind of a sadhu. Another interpretation could be the casualness in the way the half naked fakir is reclining on the car.

If there are no full stops, is India a perpetual question? Those of us who live in cities may not agree. We think we know our land.
We think know our people.

Mark Tully says that the best way to destroy a people’s identity and culture is to undermine its religion, and language. The British, have done both. The result is that the elite, the educated upper class of India, have adapted the English language, the English ways, and have further alienated from our roots.

India lives in its villages, Gandhiji had said long ago. The book indicates, however, that India lives in its poor. The villagers are coming to the cities and serving the rich. This is a commonly known statistic. Then why is it necessary to go deeper into the subject? Because statistic is dry and therefore does not evoke a response. We have become too insensitive to even the word poverty.

However, the author does not adopt a high angle when doing his research. His is a journalism of integrity, where he be-friends his subject, long enough to get to know it like an insider.

The book opens to a complete life sketch of a villager who now works as a cook in the author’s house. Sample this conversation that shows the ease in their relationship.

‘Why have you kept money stashed away in the house when you know we have had three burglaries?’ asks Mark.

‘All the burglaries happened in the upstairs rooms. I kept my money downstairs,’ replies the clever servant.

‘Impeccable logic’, responds Sir Mark.

Ramayana, the blockbuster TV serial has featured many a time in the press, with people amazed at the popularity of the epic. Marc shares a peg of whisky with Hanuman, sorry Dara Singh, and gets out some interesting gossip.

In the Deorala sati story, Mark takes us to the village and spends time with the villagers. His attitude, though, is not biased. He genuinely wants to know whether the young widow was burnt alive, or was she ‘a real sati’.

In Calcutta he wonders why a revolution has not happened in a state with a communist ideology. But he is not allowed entry into a club because one of his friends is not wearing a tie.

‘The typhoon in Ahmedabad’ is the most moving story in the book. Not only are riot affected struggling to survive the curfew, they constantly live under threat of being killed.

‘Doesn’t the government offer you any help?’ he asks a Muslim woman.
‘The Government!’ she replies, scornfully. ‘All they do is shoot us. They just shoot us dead.’

What I didn’t like about the book:

There are at times too many details which could have been edited out.

What I liked about the book:

Mark Tully does not glorify India. And neither does he tear apart the country on the basis of numbers and statistics. He observes India with the attention and care of a beloved.

———————————————————————————–

Interview with Sir Mark Tully:

Q. Your understanding of Indians seems very apt from No Full Stops. You have mentioned in the preface that the elite Indian’s are still dominated by the western mind, by foreign thinking. Do you see any change in this pattern since the years that you published this book?

I think that the western influence on the Indian mind is still there, in fact, it is more. I would say that the over materialist, the over consumerist culture, has made further inroads into India since then. Earlier it had taken over Indian cities, and now even the villages are getting affected.

Q. Mahatma Gandhi had said that India lives in its villages.

Well, I think if he were here now, Gandhiji would have said that India lives in its poor. Because a lot of villagers are leaving their homes for the cities. I think there is an urgent and pressing need in this country to do something for the standard of living, particularly in areas of health and education of every Indian. So I think the Prime Minister is absolutely right to coin the phrase, ‘inclusive economics’.

Q. Do you see any positives of the recession for India?

I think the world should learn a lesson from recession, that you should not take market economics, or socialism too far, but that you should find a balance between the two.
Then the world and India would benefit from the recession.

It has been caused by the market economics being taken too far. In a book that I wrote, that was published before the recession, there is whole chapter about this. I had said that this was definitely a danger in the direction that things were moving. The name of the book is ‘India’s unending journey.’ The whole book is about the middle road and there is a section on the middle road in economics.

Q. How do you think India should deal with terrorism?

I think the worst thing you could do is to get hysterical, because then you make all kinds of mistakes. And that does not mean that what happened in Bombay is not dreadful. You have to remain calm. The terrorists want you to become hysterical.

Second thing I would say, is that India should learn from this. The need of a wholesale reform of its police and its courts. Because, police cannot function efficiently, unless there is a responsible court system. If the courts systems are not efficient, the police cannot be efficient either.

You are still running your police as if they were the British Raj running the police. Things have moved on since then. I don’t know why this is in India, in the administration, in the bureaucracy, in the courts and in the police, so much of the British Raj is left behind.

People sometimes make the mistake that the British Raj was the British system. It was not the British system; it was the British Colonial system. And the Colonial system was designed to exercise the power of the state. The Indian government, at the moment, is supposed to be the servant of the people, rather than the master of the people.

Q.    We are used to the term, ‘politically correct.’ But your book, No Full Stops in India also talks about being ‘spiritually correct’. Can you give me your take on the correct spiritual attitude?

(laughs) Well to begin with, I feel that whatever forms of worship we have, should all be respected. Unless they become inhuman in some way. If someone for instance, believes in human sacrifice, then that is not tolerable.
But if like in Christianity some like to worship saints, or whether some believe in murti puja or not, or whether in Muslims they believe in the Sharia form of law or some other law, it is best that they be respected for their beliefs.

I believe very strongly that there is such a thing as secular fundamentalism. I believe that the secular people should practice tolerance, just as the religious people should practice tolerance of other people’s beliefs.

I also believe that to not believe in spirituality, to not believe in God, is as much a matter of faith, as any other faith. Because there is no rational evidence that God does exist, and no rational evidence that he doesn’t exist.

So the secular fundamentalists, who think that the religious people are being stupid, are actually themselves rather stupid. And rather arrogant. We all need to be humble.
And in the present climate, the secular people who don’t believe are not showing humility.

Q. What books do you read?

At the moment I am reading Theology, a book about science and religion. I like to read poetry. And I also enjoy light reading. Bhavani Junction is another favorite of mine, because I love the railways.

Q. You were in Bangalore last year as a judge of the India plaza Golden Quill awards function. How was your response to it?

I enjoyed myself a lot, but I feel that with awards, the danger is that you cannot give them to everyone who might deserve them. Everyone pays attention only to the winners. And judges are only human, we have our own preferences.

So my feeling is that awards should be taken as fun, rather than very seriously.


Dancing on the Edge

January 7, 2009

How can a child not have a grip on life? Is it something to be learnt? Why is it relevant to to be grounded in reality, to answer questions truthfully to a child, however painful they might be? And lastly, why is it good to cry?

As the name suggests, Dancing on the Edge is about an adolescent girl dancing on the edge of life, skirting death. For how long can anyone go on living if she is convinced that she is not really alive?

‘Miracle’ is called so because her birth was miraculous. She was born out of a dead woman’s body. Her mother died in a car accident before the girl was born, and her grandmother will not let her forget this awful fact. Her father, Dane, was a child prodigy, a novelist at age thirteen. Which means he does not have to be fatherly at all, he is lost to his writing. But like all children who cannot find fault with their parents, Miracle adores her Daddy.

After all, even though he ignores her, Daddy is alive. Unlike Mommy, who escaped before she could even see her. And really, Daddy ain’t so bad. He doesn’t keep reminding her of Mama, like her Grandmother does. Grandmother is another story altogether. She talks to the dead, (except Mama of course), sees auras, wears only purple because it is supposed to be the highest in spiritual colors. She considers herself special, a psychic, but to the outsider, she is nothing short of a witch.

Especially when her son, the writer, mysteriously disappears one day, in thin air, leaving behind his gown and slippers on the floor? The explanation that Grandmother gives when Daddy vanishes is that ‘Dane has melted.’ Since Daddy was a prodigy, Miracle believes that he wouldn’t just ‘die’ or run away, like normal people did. He melted. Hopefully, he will come back, if she matters to him. If she is a child prodigy too, if she excels in something, he might come back, to see her.

To avoid the social pressure, Grandmother moves to Grandfather’s house, along with Miracle. But this is merely an arrangement, between the two ‘enemies.’ Grandfather hates the hocus-focus that grandmother indulges in, and this confuses matters further for the girl.

‘If you were born out of a dead woman’s body, you are also dead.’ Says her Grandfather, and his conviction does something to her sense of being alive. Very slowly, it starts to deteriorate, replaced by fears and demons.

A bad family is better than no family; a family that replaces itself can be tremendously strenuous. Miracle is pushed deeper into her shell when her Grandmother leaves the scene, to marry someone and get a new life. Grandfather gets a heart attack and Miracle blames herself. It is too late for the new family that she is entrusted to become ‘family’.

At school she is a misfit, and children can be cruel to someone of a different feather. Her intense need to communicate with someone familiar, her melted father, leads her to set fire to herself.

How she is saved, both physically and emotionally, is the rest of the story. The language is simple, the plot is far too interesting and overrides all literary considerations. The characters are as real as the hands holding the book.

Winner of the 1997 National Book Award, Dancing on the Edge is an experience that can inspire you to be a cautious and caring parent. It brings home the similarity in the words, family and familiar.

This book is a must for anyone working with children, for it offers a clear insight into the workings of a disturbed adolescent and also throws light on the healing process.

What I did not like about the book:

Reading the book can create a fear of the supernatural, of fairy tales, and anything imaginative.

What I liked about the book:

I liked the character of the psychiatrist who helps Miracle regain her sense of life. It is through him that the author, Han Nolan speaks, and heals the broken self image of the girl.


World Without End

December 31, 2008

Book Review
World Without End, Ken Follet’s new novel is a sequel to his previous masterpiece, Pillars of the Earth. Sequels, as such are usually disappointing. A good story is complete in itself. And it is a very rare storyteller who can extend the time line of his characters out of a previous book with an intensity that is matched in the original.

Follet, therefore, does not pick up where Pillars ended. He lets two hundred years pass. And he opens the gates of the Kingsbridge city in the fourteenth century, on a cold day in November and introduces the reader to four kids.

One is Gwenda, daughter of a thief, a man who got his hand chopped off because he was caught stealing. Gwenda is terrified that she will received the same punishment, but she is more afraid of hunger and cold. Another is a girl called Caris, daughter of a rich trader. Caris’s mother is sick and at twelve years of age, Caris has inkling that when the monks bleed her mother, it is not doing her any good.

The boys are brothers, but very different in temperament. Ralph, the younger brother, is born to be a soldier. He has a knack of killing, and his first victim is Gwenda’s pet dog. Merthin, the elder, lacks the killer instinct, and hence is low on self esteem. His parents force him to become an apprentice of a carpenter and slowly the concepts of architecture unravel in his mind.

Other than Gwenda, all three are descendents of the Builder family’s of Pillars of the earth. In Pillars, the propelling factor was the building of the Cathedral. In this book, it is the transformation of thinking patterns from blind faith to experience and logic. The evolution of medical practice, a slow painful process augmented by repeated attacks of plague and an intelligent approach of research.

In any society, it is the heros who are worshipped that determine the flow of the tide. In medieval England, the Church and the Aristocracy dominated over the people ruthlessly, and people accepted them, blinded by the faith of fear and superstition. The monks were God’s men, and if they thought a sick person should be bled, nobody questioned them. If a nun said you must wash your hands after you touch a patient who has the plague, she was easily ignored because she was a woman.

The feminine was suppressed, by the practice of killing the so called witches. A rapist who is about to be hung receives a pardon because the king needs soldiers to fight in the war. An eighteen year old girl can be ‘sold’ by her father to an outlaw, by her father who needs the money to feed his other children. And this happens in broad daylight, and it is sanctified by a monk.

And so it is the times they are living in that is the villain of the story. A beautiful aspect about time is that it changes. Bad times become good by certain characteristics in our four characters. One is a basic intelligence, something that is not of much value when people are superstitious. One might say it is courage, and persistence which can bring fruits to an enquiry.

However, the fascinating aspect of this book is how the change in mindset is a result of the circumstances in the flow of narrative. In fact, this is the reason that literature is an easier way to study and appreciate history than text books. Because a book, specially a novel set in historical times, gives us the entire picture.

World Without End is an experience of living in medieval England, during exiting times.

The author takes you through all the different steps of hierarchy, from a peasant to an earl, from a builder to a nun. Their lives are woven into a compelling read.

This book is a reminder to us, to value the times we are living in. Our ancestors have paid a heavy price and gone through immense mental, emotional struggle for us to get a democratic life.

What I liked about the book:

The complexity of the characters make them very real. Caris, for example, is in love with Merthin but does not want to marry. She would rather attend the town’s meetings, write a book on how to deal with plague victims, and fight with the monks. Not because she is ambitious, but because she has a calling. A calling is something which fulfills itself.

What I did not like about the book:

The first part is rather slow. Maybe because as a sequel, it has to deal with the hangover of Pillars of the Earth. But it did not have to go into such long descriptions of the politics a monk plays to become a Prior. The author’s preference towards nuns as compared to monks is a bit too obvious.

However, going by the theme of the narrative, which was a rise of the smart woman, and the falling of the superstitious folk, this preference was necessary.


Roots and Wings : A Handbook for Parents

December 26, 2008

A self help book on Parenting? But why? All through life, we tried to escape parental advice. They called it rebellion. For us it was growing up. We did not mean to disrespect them. But we owed it to ourselves to find our own voice.

And now that we have children, we would like to help them find their own path too.

Anybody who has been a parent knows that parenting ain’t for sissies. It is a time to stop day dreaming, to get into the action.

Most of us parent through instinct. Which means we do a retake of our own parents. But the scene has changed, the characters have changed. And we don’t want to make the same mistakes. We want to grow, to evolve, to learn.

Just as we struggled for years to find our own place in this world, we have to make a little extra effort and go to a parenting school.

Although we don’t like to admit it, most of us buy self –help books because it is a private school. We get to learn without failing in tests.

‘Roots and Wings,’ a handbook for parents, will to begin with, take the fatigue out of the practical aspects of parenting. It gives fresh ideas and solutions to problems you have been dealing with for months. Are you at a wits end of how to make your child get over his fear of water and learn swimming? Don’t give up taking your child to the pool, just stop insisting that he \she has to learn swimming. Let your child just waddle in the pool. Within a couple of days, ‘peer pressure’ will take over. Raksha elaborates how important it is that your child keeps good company.

With so many alternative schools of thought going on and on about not pressurizing the child with overwork and facts, parents get confused as to where to draw the line on studies, if to draw a line at all. An entire chapter is devoted on developing the creativity of your little monster. A creative environment, essentially, is a matter of exposure. Art does not come out of nothing. And this is the justification for the term, ‘rooted in culture’.

It is of utmost importance for parents to understand what is lacking in the present educational system so that they can make up for it. After being rooted in culture, the child has to step out into nature. City life offers almost nil contact with the

elements of nature we took for granted as children. That children might suffer if they don’t learn how to climb trees is something no school would appreciate. Not that we need convincing, but Raksha gives documented proof of fall-outs of lost contact with nature. And suggests that if trees are not available, gardening is an option that is doable for most of us.

Learning is a process that happens smoothly when we are enjoying the process. The child who is reluctant to pick up a school book needs to first fall in love with the written word. The best way to achieve this is to introduce the child to reading as a hobby.

Raksha gives us a new insight into our role as parents. We are continuously trying to fulfill our own desires through our children. There is a clear line between encouraging and pressurizing a child to excel. What exactly is a sportsman’s spirit? Raksha talks to a few biggies like Sania Mirza for some very useful tips.

Building character is perhaps the most important aspect of parenthood. Certain teachings need to be vocalized, and sometimes we have to be silent. Raksha gives examples from the parental lives of celebrities like Jaya Bachchan.

In this chapter, a sincere reader is taken to task. Do you label your child as lazy, useless, or stupid? What is the better way of discipline? Are you just a Sunday dad? Becoming a responsible parent is hard work and this book shows the way, step by step.

The language is crisp, the style is conversational. The attitude is not higher than thou; it comes from a place of understanding the complexities of parenting.

What I didn’t like about the book:

Some of the tips and suggestions in the book limit the target reader towards the educated affluent class.

What I liked about the book:

It has a holistic approach, something that would appeal to any mother’s heart.


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