The House Of Oracles | Chandini Santosh


Very few books are cathartic, even fewer leave you listless yet fulfilled in a strange way. Chandini Santosh’s The House of Oracles opened some blocks in me. Tears came effortlessly as I finished the book today. They came because a catharsis was much needed. The sky poured endlessly outside my window. I do not know how to review a book so just jotting down what flowed from my heart. This is the second book revolving around an ancestral house that has touched me so deeply. Both the books are by women writers and extremely compelling reads.

Some incidents from past can haunt you for the lifetime, emerging when least expected. Chandini has so beautifully woven that in the theme of the story. Throughout the novel the thought pulsates underneath the current happenings seeking release and atonement in some form or the other.

The heart wrenching narrative tugs at you to keep reading but I had to pause because the characters drew me in at different levels not letting go. The story is set in North Malabar region  and I urge you to do some reading about the ‘Oracles of Malabar’, an incredibly vibrant tradition that is slowly vanishing now, before proceeding to read. The House of Oracles is not just a voyage down the memory lane exploring the rich history, rituals, customs, it is also a journey within. A search for inner happiness, an effort to engage with oneself at levels one wants to push aside. Every one of us has to go through the myriads of  emotions, struggle and pave our path through the pressures and demands society as well as life inflicts on us and that is why perhaps the line between fiction and reality blurs as one reads through the pages.

Although the strong female characterization is the strength of the novel it is the portrayal of the male characters that grew on me. The vulnerability of human emotions is so deftly crafted that it is impossible to disconnect. Each character, even the short lived Vishnu, gets permanently etched in the mind.

The women on the other hand have this inner strength that surfaces quietly at times and at others more vociferously. Even in the midst of chaos that surrounds their lives there is resilience and dignity.

Chandini is a poet and painter par excellence and from the opening lines the four hundred year old house of oracles, the outhouse, the graves, the trees and the forty steps leading down begin to emerge before the reader like a painting. A painting alive with the aroma of the Parijata flowers floating down like tiny, wispy dreams or the moon dragging over the tulsi plant in the atrium, the stream swollen with rain, the daunting shadow of the seven layered stone lamp eternally etched on the walls, the grape-eyed monkey looking beseechingly from the tamarind tree, the lake simmering like a silver coin tossed into the night.. the imagery takes your breath away. One feels compelled to get under the skin of the characters and follow them around the House of Oracles and at times one almost becomes the house itself. There is no other way than to give in.

It is the phrases like, “Forgiving is a limbless genie. It has to be carried in rounded palms or the open hollows of the grieving mind” and “Everyone has to find their own key to the treasure; everyone’s treasure is different” that make you cling to the book till the last word.

Weaved intricately between family traditions, human tragedies, ancient customs is the inevitable social transformation, caste struggle, anomalies of land grab, the ways of the neo-rich and the uncomfortable transition from traditional to modern.

This intense, fast paced narrative will not let you down at any level. The cover design is based on a charcoal sketch by the author and is the portal to a world of storytelling that’s hard to come by these days.

I highly recommend Chandini’s debut novel to everyone. Go pick up your copy here – The House Of Oracles

In The Light Of Darkness – Radhika Maira Tabrez


 

After reading a book if something changes inside you for better then it is a good book. I found light from this one. Simple stories told from the heart are the best. Our lives, across the globe, are all connected with fragile threads. Sometimes these threads quiver just a little to make us aware of their existence and of the beauty of life that is unfolding despite everything. Threads that help us ‘cross over’, to move past regrets and sorrows and embrace life to the fullest.  These potent threads lead us to one another when the time is right and makes us whole again.

I went to the book launch of In The Light Of Darkness last Saturday and met Radhika for the first time. Though we had been in touch on Facebook since some time and I had read her blog occasionally I wasn’t too familiar with her writing. The book is published by  Readomania and their events are always heart warming. You must check out their other books and website too.

When I got the invite for the launch from her I had not seen the cover. The name itself was enough to convince me to look forward to the event. When she shared the cover, I was blown over. It just drew me in. A lot of emotions stirred inside and I thought what a beautiful poetry in picture it was. Later, after reading the novel, I realized how apt the cover was. It sums up the entire human saga of patient waiting of a woman, a mother, a son to being to closure all that needed to be closed. It sums up the very essence of the novel, how ‘the light of darkness’ eventually finds a crack, breaks through and brightens everything around it. It tells the importance of befriending,  understanding and embracing those ‘dark’ phases in our lives for these phases are an important gift for our overall growth and well being. I personally called them ‘rooting years’ .

The novel is exceptionally well written. One of the best I have read among emerging Indian writers. What a fantastic debut.

During the conversation Radhika told that it was Mary Oliver’s famous poem ‘Uses Of Sorrow’ from her book ‘Thirst’ that inspired her to write the story . Incidentally it is one of my favorite books and poem.

While reading, one can see how  beautifully she has captured the essence of that poem  and blended it in the narrative with such affecting simplicity. Throughout the book there is an underlying current of hope and faith. In the midst of all the struggles the character continuously find some thread to hold on to and renew their faith in life, in relationships, in themselves.

That brings me to another thing that has receded in the shadows of time. Letter writing. There is something very personal in writing a letter with hand. Words that came alive and pulsated as you run your fingers on them. Letters that evoked so many emotions in you even after years of receiving them. Letters that bridge the distance and sometimes bring things to closure, assuring a new beginning. I remembered such letters as I read Susan’s letter to her son. there is a certain clairvoyance in it. A light in the dark. I have known the power of such light and could see how beautifully it lead Matthew to the path he had known but never had strength to take.

This isn’t  book review or critique of her work. I am writing this to tell you how the book connected with me at many levels.Page after page I paused and lingered at places that took me back in time in my own life. So many things came up to the surface and eventually found closure. A feeling of Déjà vu made me so uncomfortable at times that I did not know whether to continue reading or to pause and then I realized I needed to go on, go on to find something that will provide the catharsis. If a story helps you look within it always heals.

Sometimes a line becomes so significant that it plays in the mind on a loop. This book had many such lines and I was tangled in them. I could have read the book in one go but as I said there are words that pulled at my sleeves like a kitten seeking attention. We all choose our karmic path and are responsible for our decisions especially the toughest ones. Decisions that drastically alter the whole flow of life, shaking the very bonds of love, of comradeship, of trust. We hope that those who are directly or indirectly affected by those decisions will eventually understand. This hope sustains us, gives us a reason to live.

A mother-child relationship is much more than just a natural bond. The author has dealt with the complexities of this bond so effortlessly. The book makes you wonder about the woman who is torn between being a mother and a woman. It makes you reach out to the son who is struggling to find the light of hope in the darkness that was gifted to him by life. For me, it brought back the memories of a similar decision I had to take for my son. As the story unfolded I was filled with the memories of those dark times and how that box of darkness became a gift to me and possibly for my son in a different way perhaps, but none the less a gift. Not many narratives shake your conscience  the way this one does.

When the story is too close to home it often messes with your mind. In those times I wrote to Radhika and poured my heart out and then I found why this book is so special. Radhika has this innate ability to comfort and love which instantly made me feel better. It also made me realize that time is insignificant to connect deeply with someone. Only a person with so much depth can touch lives with her words.  I know I will cherish this one for long.

The book conveys an important message. I don’t know where your reading of the book will lead you and I am not discussing anything about the plot or the characters here. I want you to find your light once you read it.

 

Go pick your copy of In The Light Of Darkness

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Spring In Delhi, A Poem, A Story And Some Thoughts


The more a voice gets stifled, the louder it gets. So much has happened in past few days. There is too much anger and anguish inside me and I am just not getting into the rhythm of regular writing. Pages are still lying blank. Pen poised over them like a finger on the jugular.How can one remain composed when  voices of dissent are silenced. When Rohith Vermula is pushed to commit suicide. When peaceful dissenters (students) are painted as “anti nationals” charged for  sedition without any proof, for just having a different political ideology and guess which one got targeted as a terrorist and why? When news channels incite the public with doctored videos/audios. When evidence is manufactured. When goons are given protection and encouraged in their hooliganism. When students, teachers, journalists are beaten up for speaking up for what is just. When Perversity rules. When acid is thrown on the face of a  woman tribal right activist to muzzle yet another voice of dissent. When the country burns in the fire of communal hatred. When you are hounded and trolled for your stance on what is happening right now in the country When a twelve year old child is hit and her father killed for asking a second helping of meal. When the tragic suicides of the farmers is termed as “fashion”. When there is a complete breakdown of law & order. When anger kills the power of reason. When you are targeted because of your gender, caste, name, political stance or simply because you use your mind and speak out against the unjust.

It makes me uneasy. Makes me pause and reflect.

I fear for my life every single time I open my mouth in this country where I was born and raised. Who will stand up for me or any ordinary citizen? Who will listen to our pleas? I am not as articulate as many of my writer friends but I am a thinking and concerned citizen. A woman trying to stand for her rights and her dignity. A mother watching two young adult sons growing up in an environment that is getting vicious day by day. I taught my children dissent, I taught them to participate actively as citizens. I taught them to be discerning without being judgmental. That is what my parents taught me. I do the same. Does that make us Anti Nationals? Tell me how? Be very careful when you label anyone. Know its power. Labels box you in. I have been boxed in and I know how it feels. It dramatically changes your life in a matter of seconds. Most of the times scars you for life. Listen to that little voice of conscience and dissent that is knocking from within you to wake up. Listen and act.

In the midst of this unrest the spring came quietly to the capital bringing myriad hues of flowers. Every roundabout, every garden, every park is a riot of colours. The barbets, the flaming golden woodpeckers and the parakeets and many other birds are here. The roadsides and roundabouts are full of nasturtiums, yellow poppies, purple asters, yellow violas, red pitunias, Cinnenarias, dog flowers, marigolds, sweet peas, sweet williams, chrysanthemums, dahlias and bougainvilleas in varied hues have painted the city in every colour. Some of the Mango trees are blossoming too and then there is this distinct fragrance of the Saptparni tree across the city. The coral trees and the Silk Cotton trees are beginning to bloom too.

Delhi also hosts flower shows during Feb-March. I went to he 29th Delhi Garden Tourism Festival Yesterday to get soaked in the colours of basant (Spring)

And when we talk of flowers and blossoming how can we forget poetry. A poem got published in prestigious Open Road Review Magazine recently. You can read it HERE.

A Short Fiction also found a platform in Read Fingers, a portal for those who enjoy reading and writing. This story is very close to my heart. Do read it HERE.

Heartfelt gratitude to the editors who appreciated my work and included it in their magazines.

Talking of magazines, if you have not submitted your piece for Cafe Dissensus March issue (23) then please do it fast as the last date is not very far. Here is the submission link. I am guest editing the issue this time. 

I will leave you with this brilliant piece by my friend Nabina Das. – ‘After Every War’: Reading poetry in the dark times 

And One more by Saif Mehmood – Repression and Resistance, Delhi 2016: Through The Prism Of Urdu Poetry  

 

 

 

 

Ten on Tuesday – Ten Books I Read This Year


This year I wasn’t able to read much due to my eye surgery but here are the ten books which I read and loved.

The House Of Twinning Roses – Nabina Das

The Girl Who Loved A Pirate – KulpreetYadav

A Kind of Kaddish – Jerry Wilson

Scion Of Ikshvaku – Amish Tripathi

Unbound 2,000 Years Of Indian Women’s Writing – Edited by Annie Zaidi

Along The Red River – SabitaGoswami

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Collected Stories

Neruda Selected Poems

A Darker Shade (17 Swedish Stories of Murder, Mystery and Suspense) – Edited by John-Henri Holmberg

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (Vol.1) – Edited by Robert Silverberg

Ten On Tuesday – Ten blogs to follow


Serenely Rapt  Do checkout her project called rugs of life.

bNomadic  If you love Himalayas this is the place to be.

Vidya Sury| Going A Musing Collecting Smiles

A- musing | Purba Ray

Healthfood Desivideshi and Banaras Ka Khana

Aam Janata

Shekhar Kapoor

Joshi Daniel Photography

My Garden

Tilling The Earthwoman

The reason I have just given you the links is that I want you to go explore and relish each blog. Find something that connects with you. These are the bloggers among many others that I love reading. Go indulge

Ten On Tuesday


1. I don’t look fat but I have gained weight. I have stuffed myself with desserts lately. I think it is ‘stress eating’ or ’emotional eating’ though I do have a sweet tooth. I am basically eating my feelings. The result is the weight gain and still the lack of energy or for that matter inspiration. I am not bingeing but I am just eating too much sweet. Food as a form of relief. Relief from stress, insecurity, loneliness, hurt, anxiousness. I am aware and I am trying to get past it. Time isn’t a good healer and I am just too emotionally distraught now. Food is a passion for me and I do not wish it to become a curse. So ‘ban’ is not what I aiming at but control. Sleep deprivation is another thing that may be adding ounces and inches to my body. Need to cure that and get into shape. Love myself before others.

2. The Urs Mubarak of Hazrat Amir Khusro has begun and this time too I am unable to go to the dargah. It is not very far from where I live but there is no calling I guess. It is something I need to do. I am not a religious person but there is a mystic pull that keeps me tied to this place. I often sit and focus on the energy I get from there. Sending all the vibrations to the universe to make it happen.  Asking for healing, guidance and peace.

3. This year has not been good at some levels which have changed the entire course of my life once again. Uncertainty looms large and I need to take some decisions. Asking universal help to bring things to closure and for new beginnings.

4.‘I fell in love, and with all the recklessness of love, I had no idea what I was doing until it was far too late to get out…’ – Jeanette Winterson

5. I am not averse to being alone. It is the best thing to happen if you can befriend your aloneness. It is the loneliness that seeps in the hollow of your bones and nibbles them from inside out.  There are worse things than being alone and most often when you do realize that it’s too late and there is nothing worse than too late. Indifference is the opposite of love, not hate. Right now, dealing with reality is tough but not impossible.

6. Sometimes one knows one’s place, outside the periphery. I have said this from the start, felt it from the start. I continuously felt something shifting from your side, I wasnt a priority or maybe I never felt like I was. I needed you to hold me while I was drowning in my fears. really, just that. It terribly frightened me when you shut me out while I tried to reach out to you against all odds. I wanted a little respect, some regard for my feelings, loyalty, a little importance in your long list of priorities… I simply needed to feel that in many hours and miles that indefinitely sat between us, Was I asking for a lot? I hopelessly waited for you to call me, stop , at least talk it out but you just let me slip away like sand from fist. I am trying to get over it. There is so much to get over with.

7. Hills are calling. I am thinking of settling down somewhere in hills. No, it is nothing to do with ‘how bad the word is’ , it is because I love mountains. I love the quiet, it has that formidable quality to counter the deafening stillness inside me. I was born in hill and a part of me always wanders in those paths moist with the sweetness of pines, it wanders with the clouds, over the valleys and little hamlets with red slate roofs. I am saving money to make that one way trip to some place where no one knows me. Start afresh and do what pleases me. Even if it is just gazing at the flight of the eagle.

8. I am reading a lot of zen these days. There is something calming in those pages. I am also learning to paint again. Dipping my fingers in real colors. I did two acrylic on canvas but I think I will buy a big sketch book, crayons and color pencils. Something I carry with me wherever I go. I need to hold the pencils again. The tips of my fingers are becoming numb with too much typing. I want to feel the pulse of the words I write and it’s not possible with the impersonal letters popping up with the click clack of the keys.  Things need to get real.

9. It is also time to bring closure to the novelette I began many moons ago. It has been beta read and coming back with comments. I plan to work on it with utmost dedication and bring it out. A lot of time, effort and commitment has gone into it. Same with the short fiction I have to edit. Time to make it all final and add some more to have a presentable book ready. Universe has been benevolent as far as my writing is concerned and many good things have come my way, I just need to go with the flow and discipline myself. i thing I have struggled with since long.

10. Talking about writing i am reading and experimenting with new forms of poetry and fiction. I twill be shared later sometime 🙂 Till then life will be all about keeping the faith that good things will happen. All that is lost will come around. If it is really meant to be.

Ten On Tuesday – Notes To Self


1. Learn to be with yourself and like it. Do things alone. Treat yourself to a coffee or a meal. Explore the city including the gardens. Visit the exhibitions, fairs, museums.

2 Let go. With grace. If someone decides not to love you anymore there is nothing  you can do about it. Stop chasing.

3..Love yourself. Love your body. Treat it with respect. Treat yourself with respect. Sleep well, walk, drink plenty of water, excercise. Shed worry and fear.

4. Learn something new everyday. Teach something new to others. Try something you haven’t done before. Solo travel is one of them.

5.. Resist the temptation to respond immediately when hurt, provoked  or in anger. Never dignify an insult with a response.

6. Read more. Write more. Repeat.

7. Get your act together and forge ahead. You do not have a choice. There is no middle path nor one that will lead you back.

8. Life is too short to have toxic people around you. Get rid of them.

9. Stop being a hypochondriac. You don’t have all the diseases listed on the internet.

10. Remember how Leonardo DiCaprio taught Winslet to spit in the movie ‘Titanic? Just practice that when you are free so that you can use that skill when people judge you. (Thanks Farida for this valuable tip)

Ten On Tuesday


Today I am not really in a mood to write. This year has been a mixed bag of good and bad. In equal measures. “Well, Something’s lost but something’s gained in living everyday.” Remember the beautiful song by Joni Mitchell?

Today I have decided to post ten random things from the various drafts lying in a folder left orphaned since one day everything changed. Lines that could have become poems, stories but now they just lie abandoned, waiting. Just as I am.  The opposite of love is not hate, it is the abject indifference. People may say, “this too shall pass” but it doesn’t, it seeps in the hollow of your bones. Half of July has passed and I am tired of being brave. I can’t go on pretending. Right now dealing with reality is impossible so don’t mind if my conversations seem wounded in love.

1. “I am getting acquainted with your absence. I write as much as I can to write you out of my system but it doesn’t happen. the sorrow doesn’t turn into poems. The phone remains silent as the mornings turns to afternoons, which in turn fall into dark and then the dark too goes quiet, just like you. I stare into nothingness, even the breathing becomes inaudible as I grieve about the parts of me you buried while they were still pulsating with life.”

2. “Even though it hurts, I will stay open and vulnerable. The beauty of the human life lies in its fragility and I wont give it up or give it away.It is the real strength and power of being human, to accept your brokenness, to put it all back together. To fill the cracks with gold of love and move on. Cracks are the wounds indicating you have suffered and have overcome that suffering. Courageous risks are life-giving and the rewards are deep.”

3.

“I bring to you my poems

a clumsy bouquet of words

unbefitting for your tastefully done life

wildflowers, a wealth of perfume…..”

4. “Delhi summer drips in mangoes. The summer seasons opens officially with mango blossoms and the entire two months are ruled by the king of fruits, canopies of gulmohar carried forward from the spring into summer alive with cuckoo birds. Watermelons swollen with the red summer heat inside them. Flamboyant Bougainvillea exploding on walls in vibrant colors. Blinding sun, dust winds, road rage, power cuts, melting asphalt, chuski licking, water trolleys, sweat and grime, white sky and chilled lemonades signifies the summer in Delhi. City is a color palette with the golden amaltas, gulmohar, tesu, kanak champa, silk cotton, coral tree, all in full bloom and the neem trees filled with tiny starry flowers. Who can’t fall in love with the lilac spread of kachnar and the beautiful Jacaranda. In me, the summer drips with the memories of you that evoke painful secrets. It is a funeral without a shroud.

5. The horizon makes her lonelier than she is as  she stands looking down at an unspoiled landscape of sand. Now a tree, she once was a woman, a keeper of the words,  a story-teller, a mystery from time immemorial.

6. Age is catching up with the Neem trees (Indian Lilac) in central Delhi (This one is part of the canopy of lush green trees that line up both sides of the Aurangzeb road). It is a beautiful experience to drive down the roads, esp when the vehicular traffic is least, with so much green surrounding you. There was a time I would walk down these roads and simply gaze at the spread of many shades of green above me. One could hear so many bird calls in those days. Each season brings its own dramatic change to the landscape. Each one more beautiful than the other. For once one forgets all the chaos that surround us.

These trees are a legacy of the colonial raj. Ten thousand trees and one hundred and thirteen km of hedges were laid out by an expert from Kew Garden London, with each major avenue having one species. Tamarinds on Akbar Road, Arjuna trees on Janpath, pipuls on mandir marg, and Neems on Aurangzeb road.

We stopped under the shade of this tree waiting for the signal to turn green. In the midst of the thick foliage, high up on a branch was nest, now empty. One can not see it in the photograph though. Life is all about holding on and letting go. Dont know why but a line from Blake’s poem instantly came to my mind.

“The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.”

7. “Whatever you give comes back to you.
I gave myself. Love is a boomerang I never learned how to throw correctly.”

8. Not even for a moment forget that I am a river.
No matter what you put in my way,
i will still find a way to break free.
Don’t assume that I will be on this narrow road forever,
your perception of my exterior
may not match what lies beneath my surface,
I am holding a fiction inside me
if you think you know me, think again
what is visible is camouflaged
what is hidden is true
we are kind of schizoid, aren’t we?
containing multitudes within.

9.

each of us

for all our lives

live

so bitterly

misunderstood

10. I carry a raven in my chest. You, a songbird. Isn’t it clear who should fear the cage?

Ten On Tuesday – Gaming With The Boys


When we got tired of playing the mind games these are the ten games me and boys played and mastered. We were always good at being escapists, prefered the imaginary to the real and often yanked ourselves from one world to plunge into another. We all had our “me time” but still we spent a lot of time together bonding over board games, singing, telling stories, doing some sort of art/craft, playing some real-time games which would leave the house looking like as if it has been hit by a tsunami. It was tough but it was fun.

Computer games were a new rage and the boys were fanatic supporters of  this new religion. All my efforts to keep them away from this growing menace failed and then I thought,’ if you can’t beat them join them’. WTH.. but I still laid down some rules.

And what did we play ? Here are the top ten.

1.Claw – Because I love wild cats 😀
2.Soldier of fortune – The first gory game I played where it was all guts over fear. Imagine that after yelling at the boys for behaving like bloody psychopaths.
3. Need for Speed/ Roadrage – I could never learn to drive but always dreamed of the mean machines I could control. The need for speed was satiated here and it was so engrossing that sometimes the line between virtual and real just disappeared. It was fun all right.
4. James Bond Nightfire –  The only time I could be more than just a bond girl 😀
5. Delta Force Land Warrior – My initiation into first person shooters. It was cathartic in some ways.
6. XMen Arcade Game – For the love of classic X-Men characters. Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Nimrod, Mystique and many more. At times it was ridiculously funny but a lot of fun with the boys. A comic book come to life perhaps. 🙂
7. Batman Arcade Game – Chaos in Gotham – My love for the dark knight began much before Nolan. When you have two superheros in the house you need to learn the survival techniques for anything could happen anytime.
8. Solitaire and Freecell – These were the games to zone out when the house was not a war zone with aliens  spaceships landing on your head and cars flying from between your legs.

9. Don’t think we just engaged in virtual games. There were a lot of indoor and outdoor games that were invented at the spur of the moment. Missions planned and executed, Rooms turned into makeshift WWF arenas (I was always the referee trying to save my head) 😀 , paper planes flew out of the balconies and windows with their tails in a blaze of fire, The entire house turned into an obstacle racing fast track where all sorts of cars, jeeps raced like lunatics. (my participation was limited to providing unlimited power boosters ( especially made in my kitchen) and occasionally tripping over some invisible flying object. ).. Oh yes, and picking up the debris later on while chasing the boys around to clean up.

10. Yes, I had my collection of WWE and Pokemon cards, tazzos and what not. These were guarded like prized possessions and traded occasionally with great deal of negotiations. We did play all the games with these interesting loot.

Raising boys is not for wimps and they kept me on my toes 24/7 but then it was also an adventure and great fun to grow up with them.