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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Review – ‘Stranger than a Sun’ – Poems and Drawings of Dr Amitabh Mitra


Poems and Drawings of Amitabh Mitra
Published by The Poets Printery (South Africa)
Date of publication: February 2015
Pages: 59
Price: Rs.220/-

It was Dr. Amitabh Mitra’s paintings and drawings that drew me to his creative world. A medical doctor passionate about art, music and writing was something I found exciting. I have always believed that creativity expands our inner horizons and gives us a unique perspective on life. I could see it in Dr. Mitra’s art as well as his poetry in Stranger than a sun, a semi-autobiographical collection of prose poems and drawings. The book has an exquisite blend of nostalgia, romance, culture and art.

The charcoal drawings of the Gwalior fort add a hauntingly beautiful aura to the words on each page. You are at the same time in many place, drifting through different times, different ages. Every time you turn a page you are drawn into something which is familiar and yet strange. It makes you yearn for that which is now lost in the shadows, a moment from the past. A lucid dream where you hear the echo of a forbidden love,  the weathered stones whisper to you an unfinished story.

“What would you say … (poem4)

The arched stairs in the Haveli (charcoal on paper) take you into the intriguing labyrinth of its historical past and heritage where love, poetry, music still breath in each crevice, each corner. The poet  sets the imagination of the reader on fire.

For me, who has passed the fort many times during my travels, who has been to the lanes and bylanes of Old Delhi, the places instantly begin to pulsate with life. The landscape of Gwalior by the fort at one end and dotted with palaces, chatris and havelies from where the Marathas ruled and the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, the seat of Mughal empire, filled with aromas, colours, music and poetry, each place steeped in tradition and history of  its own.

There is a sense of disdain for age-old barriers  that flickers on some pages.  The poet talks about  falling in love under a rebellious sky.  The evening prayers from Jama Masjid reverberating in the air-filled with smell of spices, itr and cacophony of life as the lover secretly maneuvered the crowded lanes of old Delhi. The excitement of a forbidden love and the participation of a cashew vendor in making things work for the young lovers is a visual treat.

“I always waited, feeling the aroma of your itr and you came nearer… munching cashews we just looked at each other and only sometimes you would touch my ears as chacha jaan arranged to become busy …..way back home..” (19)

Throughout the book one tends to linger and savor the moment, taking in the longing, the pain of separation, longing and fluttering of hearts.

Nothing can describe loneliness better than the Ravines of Chambal. The feeling of ‘missingness’, the ache of a lost love runs through all the pages.

“You smell of summers, subtle and strange at many hours on many such days….) (51)

“loving can be so distant too… (45)

Most interesting aspect  of  Dr. Mitra’s writing here is his ability to bring together the past and present dissolving the  boundaries and the distance as the poems vacillate between India, Bhutan, Niger, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Each town, city, road finally joining with his hometown Gwalior without being jarring or out-of-place. The multicolored hues of cultural heritage, beliefs, seasons, the ecstasy of love and the anguish of loneliness that we see in his poems are intensely personal yet universal.

For me, the stillness in the monochrome of the charcoal drawings does not conflict with the vibrancy of the words next to them. It all came together beautifully.

The book brings to my mind medical professionals who are experimenting with healing with creative forms like music and art. One can see this streak of lateral thinking in Dr. Mitra’s work.

You can find glimpses of a humane approach to life as a doctor in the poems from Arunachal, Mdantsane and Niger where he sees his patients not just as clinical objects of study but in their entirety as human beings with all the frailty they have apart from physical discomfort.  A much-needed approach to holistic healing is evident here.

The poet is a seeker in the poems from Bhutan, looking for something elusive. A different shade of him that still has hues from his past and yet is different.

This is a book one would like to keep and browse through on and off.

On another note, the lack of good editing sometimes obstruct the flow of thought but it certainly doesn’t diminish the intensity of his work.

To sun it up  “It’s you and the fort rushing back, its last echoes remain in just another sun.”

Drawings from the book –  copyright Dr. Mitra.

I would rate the book 4*/5*

The review is also published on Poets Printery website.

A Brilliant Review of ‘Collection Of Chaos’ By Sakshi Nanda


Sakshi Nanda is an exceptional writer and a fellow Indiblogger.  Bookmark her blog ‘Between Write and Wrong’ if you are fond of honest, balanced, eloquent writing.

I felt honored when she agreed to review my début book of poetry. She is a brilliant reviewer and every time I read her post it makes me fall in love with my own book. In fact I read it again to feel what she felt, to see it from her perspective. Each meticulously done critical review is a step in the direction of learning and improvement and if the book is received well it fills you with a tremendous sense of achievement.

The Adventures of the travelling book 

The book had an interesting adventure before finally reaching its destination.  😀 The travelling book’s journey began from my home and then during its one month adventure it ‘went places’, stayed inside my animator son’s bag (a test of endurance) as he had promised to hand deliver it.  For days/ weeks the book watched the game development in his animation studio, came back to me looking rather ‘stoned‘ ( its breath smelling of .. ahem..various things ). It certainly did not look  happy to sit on my book shelf again and  needed another adventure so when Kid 2 offered to take it, the book happily took off with him to his home where it stayed in a sort of déjà vu ( scars of certain memories began to throb inside it). Finally one day after almost a month of chaos  I got a message from Sakshi, ” And the book is finally with me. This will be read and reviewed before any other now. So happy!!

 

 

Much to my relief and pleasure it finally found home with her rightful owner and thus ended the adventures of the travelling book.:D

 

Photo credit Sakshi.

Here are some excerpts from the book review :

“What are the poems about? About the dark underbelly of city life and the dreariness of the country’s. Poem after poem, Tikuli explores bitter truths of social existence. She shuttles between controlled rage and uncontrollable empathy to draw vivid but disturbing pictures of conflict and chaos – both within beings and around them too. The poetry is not pleasant, and neither is it kind. It was not born to delight but to shock you out of your comfort zone. Her recurrent imagery is of black crows, crushed flowers, shadows, solitude and silence. Tikuli writes about refugees and loneliness, martyrdom, mad women, farmer suicides and honour killing. She removes the veil off wifedom and even shows us the mind behind prostitution. There are labourer women and those being abused in plush settings. Old age and widowhood. Emotional infidelity, divorce and even rape. Yes, like I said, these poems are not kind. They are too real to care to be polite. Much like some of Jayanta Mahapatra’s poetry. Like his ‘Hunger’, for instance, which I read so many years back but which refuses to leave me for the stark reality it threw at me, and which this poetry reminded me of.”

The poetry in ‘Collection of Chaos’ must be read. For those who enjoy structural unconventionality in poetry coupled with bold issues usually made invisible, this book offers a most mature poetry. For those who like it lyrical and light, the verses on nature will leave a permanent impression on your minds. And for some others who like to take it slow, to read a poem a day, know that each poem of this book is like a world in itself – offering you thoughts to think and maybe ideas to pen even. I got mine! “

(excerpts shared with permission of the author)

To read the full review please visit  –

Book Review – Collection Of Chaos By Tikuli 

Thank you Sakshi  for reading, understanding and bringing it out for others to take notice. It is a gift of joy for me. 

Readers can buy my book from all online booksellers including:

Flipkart 

Amazon 

Book Depository 

You can rate / post your reviews on your blogs , on the above mentioned sites or Goodreads.