Book review – Rail Romance by Krupa Sagar Sahoo

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Having grown up in 1990s India, train journeys are familiar territory for me and they hold a special place in my heart. I connect them with carefree and simpler times when happiness was eating the fluffy son papdi that hawkers sell and getting a seat by the window, looking out at the ever changing terrain till I fell asleep. Trains are still the most affordable mode of transport for most middle class Indians but I suspect more than that it is the comfort of the familiar. The author of Rail Romance, Krupa Sagar Sahoo, is a Sahitya Akademi awardee and is a well known Odia writer. When I was offered a chance to review the book, I was excited to read the book (full discolusure – I am an Odia).

The first thing I noticed about the book was its cover (I always judge books by their covers!). I loved the vibrant cover designed by Tina Patankar which was so detailed that I was transported to the railway station. Incidentally this is probably the first book with a red cover that I own which isn’t gag worthy or too cutesy for its own good.

The stories set on the Coromandel Express appear in the first part of the book. Here Nakua, the fly travels on the Coromandel Express to see more of the world. In this section there are 7 interconnected stories. It was entertaining to watch Nakua’s thought process as he tried to make sense of why humans do what they do. His journey offered new insights into the 1999 super cyclone. As he saw different places, along with his worldview, mine appears to be shifted as well. I remember the gale force winds and the days being as dark as the night. There was no electricity for days. Of course, in Odisha we are no stranger to cyclones. When Cyclone Raya made its transit recently, the memories came rushing back.

The second part contains 10 independent short stories. Deftly woven into his stories are the conditions prevalent in the society. There are insights to be gleaned by reading between the lines. I am a product of this society and I may not agree with how it functions but the milieu was certainly familiar to me, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable. It is his narration with a sense of humour that kept me turning the pages. Some of the stories had me thinking long after I finished them. The Daughter, The Gypsy Girl, The Hidden Stream, Party on a Pay Day and The Curse of the Cobra were the ones that stood out.

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Book review – The Other Guy by Aakash Mehrotra

Note – Thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy.

In Aakash Mehrotra’s debut novel The Other Guy, Nikhil and Anuj meet and fall in love. How they come out to people who are close to them, and navigate their lives forms the rest of the story.

The book is not set in an engineering college (thank God for that!) but media studies in Delhi and we get a sneak peek into the college life they lead. The Delhi the book evokes, the sights, sounds and smells would be familiar to anyone who has ever lived or spent time there.

Romantic relationships are tricky as it is but the figuring out part is even trickier for people who are not heterosexual. You never know who will reciprocate, who is in the closet or who is interested but can’t reciprocate. This is shown well in the book – the indecision and the risks involved of putting oneself out there. Not telling people and keeping their relationships or sexual identity a secret is familiar in the Indian context where repression is the norm but Article 377 makes it a criminal offence which adds to the tension. The book makes me wonder how many people are forced to live such dual lives to escape an archaic law.

(Edit – Article 377 has been done away with. Though we have a long way to go, one hopes the story would end differently now.)

The writing for the most part felt laborious to me, too many similies and ornamental language made for clunky prose. The difference between love and lust ought to have been evident; I felt it was leaning more towards the latter in most places. The book would have packed a punch if was shorter.

The author perhaps thought he was keeping it real but the cop out ending undermined the basic premise of writing the book, as far as I was concerned. I applaud the author for choosing to write on such a contentious topic but its treatment is conventional which takes away from the book.

One doesn’t have to be gay or have an alternate sexual orientation to understand the core of the book but if you have never loved anyone, you won’t be able to be feel the pulse of the book. Having said that, if you have ever felt out of place or not been accepted for who you are, The Other Guy will resonate with you.

Book review – I am Albert Ellis by Meenal Kelkar

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Dr. Albert Ellis needs no introduction. He is one of the greatest psychologists, the pioneer of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) which is said to be the forerunner of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I have not studied psychology in any capacity but it has always fascinated me. So when the opportunity to review Dr. Anjali Joshi’s I am Albert Ellis (translated into English by Meenal Kelkar) came my way nobody was happier than me. It was a revelation. For people who are debating whether or not to go for therapy, read Albert Ellis and you will find the answer.

In the beginning we are introduced to Albert as a child and his family. With an absentee father and neglectful mother, he looks after his younger brother and sister and becomes self-reliant very early in life.

We all live together in one house but separately.

Isn’t that the reality for most of us? Ensconced firmly in our (technological) bubbles we come to the surface only when we are in dire need of real time and face-to-face social contact.

We see how in college Albert becomes self confident, forms opinions and sticks to them, even getting expelled as a result of standing for what he believed in.

The book talks about him studying in the public libraries of New York and forming his views on sexology by reading numerous books and papers. We see the trials and tribulations of getting his work published and being rejected by publishers. Because he uses words which most people shy away from it makes his publishers uncomfortable.

He starts seeing clients and his success as a marriage counsellor leads to the formation of Love and Marriage Problems Institute (LAMP). To make it official, he decides to register his organization and get a degree in psychology. He decides to train in psychoanalysis and the course of history is forever altered. Psychoanalysis as it was then didn’t appeal to his scientific mind. The philosophy of Epictetus resonated with him and thus was born Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a new approach to psychotherapy. The theory of REBT states that our behavior and emotions originate from our beliefs towards the events, not the events themselves.

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The Fault in Our Stars

IMG_20180320_221535_EDIT_1I was watching The Fault in Our Stars and I was amazed how it felt like a new film.  Hearing the news of the Bollywood remake has sent me scurrying to the book. I don’t want to imagine the lead actors to see Augustus and Hazel in my mind’s eye. I wish I had never seen the pictures! How are they going to keep the humour and wryness intact in the film is what bafffles me. One can only hope they don’t massacre it. When I watched it I did not know this was on the cards and had John Green not tweeted the news I would have shrugged it off as a rumour.

How did I miss the cameo of author John Green when I saw it on the big screen is equally astounding.  Of course I remember the key points and see some differences (inevitable comparisons to the book) but four years later (it released in July 2014) I can somehow just enjoy what’s unfolding on screen and be at peace with it while racking my brain to remember the exact date I saw it first. (Thank you Gmail for keeping a log of my memories, of tickets booked and the exact expenses.)

Instead of watching a recently released film (there are so many I want to watch) I stuck to an old favourite. Not exactly true, I know, if you have seen a film once but sometimes once is enough to know that you will be returning to it. I know the terrain for a film I have seen before and the comfort factor is of paramount importance when in pain. I know that pain demands to be felt but sometimes distractions help you survive so you may lose a few battles but win the war.

Like there’s comfort food, there’s comfort viewing because with something that is familiar I won’t be in for any nasty surprises and that’s all one needs to get through the day sometimes. For all the unpredictability packed into the day, you need something to hold on to. And it is a bonus when so much time has passed that the film is almost new. The Fault in Our Stars was like a breath of fresh air (pun intended) and I am looking forward to reading the book again. Okay? Okay.

Have you read The Fault in Our Stars or seen the film?

Book review – Emotion and Relationships by Sadhguru

Disclaimer – Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book(s) in return for a honest review.

Relationships and Emotion written by Sadhguru, are two books in one volume. It is a good combination because you can’t have relationships without emotion and vice versa. These books are for people who want to live their life free from the tyranny of emotions which make and break our relationships.

I didn’t know much about Sadhguru​ or his philosophy before these books came my way.  These books questioned and shattered some illusions I had all my life​. I wasn’t willing to part with them because there is comfort in the familiar but they don’t work for me so it’s time to let them go.

Relationships – Bond or Bondage

We are all a little less rational (or not at all) when it comes to our emotions and how we conduct our relationships. Life amounts to nothing without the connections we have forged and yet we struggle with them. In the introduction he talks about how easily bond can become bondage. So with that thought I delved into the book and got some surprising insights. The book is mostly in question and answer format which makes it relatable to the masses since most of us are looking for answers to the same questions.

In the first chapter, Within Four Walls, Sadhguru talks about love, the nature of romantic relationships, marriage, reproduction and parenting. He also talks about the nature of bondage in each scenario and the level of detachment needed to live in this world with joy. 

The reason why you go into love is because it is supposed to bring you blissfulness. Love is not the goal; blissfulness is the goal.

Sadhguru denounces the idea of perfection in any sphere of life related to the material world.

You life will become wasteful and fanciful if you seek such things.

The second chapter named Friend or Foe is a misnomer because he talks not only about what friendship means and who is a true friend, but also about who’s a leader and what is leadership. Through a story he aptly shows that friendship cannot be sustained if it’s superficial and built only on commonality. Haven’t we all experienced it – losing ‘friends’ as soon as we changed schools, colleges, workplaces, cities and realized that there’s connecting us together?

In Cosmic Connect, the cyclical nature of life is discussed when a question is asked why the same emotion, situation, pattern keeps on repeating in our lives. He explains the cyclical nature of life and how we go about it depends on what we want from life. 

Cyclical movement is the basis of everything that you call physical in the universe. 

In the last chapter Beyond Life and Death​ he asks us why we crave relationships. I appreciate Sadhguru saying that some people won’t be able to function to their optimum if they are not bound by a relationship. He also states that different people have different needs and marriage or an intimate relationship might not work for everyone.

I understood the nature of time and space because of the way we relate to our bodies, and how it relates to life and death but didn’t understand the difference between intelligence and intellect the way Sadhguru explained it.

He talks about energy based bonds which transcend life, like the one between master and disciple.

All other relationships come together for convenience. Once it is over, it just breaks apart.

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October is not a love story.

There are few movies where I immediately want to go back to the world it portrayed and my first thought after watching Shoojit Sircar’s October was just that – I have to watch it again. This is not a movie review but a discussion. Spoilers ahead.

For some reason October reminded me of The Big Sick (another movie I wanted to see again as soon it finished) even though the leads Dan and Shiuli aren’t romantically inclined like the real life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon in the former. Perhaps because like The Big Sick, October dealt with something catastrophic happening out of the blue with humour.

I am foolish. I am naive. I am easily irritated. I am moody. I get affected by things which most people shrug off without a care. I am frequently annoying and have been known to speak out of turn when I should have kept my head down and stare at my feet. I hold on and be direct in the wrong-est of situations, and do things because I want to without thinking of returns in the hope of things working out even when there’s no chance of it. In short your typical Aries. (No better time than Aries season to embrace who I am.) So I could relate to Dan’s character in the film October more than I’d like to admit.

I don’t believe October is about a romantic relationship of any kind. Affection, connection and love are different things. But people have always seen what they wish to see. Although Dan and Shiuli work in the same hotel they had barely interacted with each other outside of work when she was conscious. Most of their interactions are after the accident. Shiuli cannot reciprocate Dan’s affection or repay what he has done for her but he continues tirelessly without hoping for much, a little (flash of) recognition maybe, and, of course, her recovery.

Dan finds a cause which changes the direction of his life. He insinuates himself into something which actually isn’t any of his business. And through this obstinacy and refusal to even admit a negative outcome or become jaded he actually gives hope to a family in a trying time, in a situation devoid of much hope.

Why did he fight for her? The world asks him why does he care so much. Can’t he get a grip on himself? Why is he so affected? To which he says how can you be so unaffected! They see him throwing his life away for a girl he barely knew because of something she said before the accident. They were colleagues not friends. It is perhaps feeling for someone who met a grisly end for no fault of her own and caring because they got the rough end of the deal which could have easily happened to him. Though I am the last person on the planet to admit this, I have seen enough of life to acquiesce that some occurrences in life cannot be explained in rational terms.

Setting the movie in a hospital is bound to connect with people. There is no one in the world untouched by sickness or hasn’t been a patient or a caregiver and dealt with such things in a family member or a relative. And though they are not happy places for me, I have made my peace with them. Knowing about medicines, chit chatting with the staff while waiting for the doctors felt like familiar territory.

Gitanjali Rao is outstanding as the mother of Shiuli trying to hold it together when faced with mounting hospital bills and imminent death of her eldest child. Her children, Shiuli’s siblings, go to tuitions and study in the hospital and she continues to take classes at IIT Delhi, sticking to their routines for the sake of sanity. I have loved her stunning short films as an animator and now adore her as an actor.

Banita Sandhu as Shiuli is especially amazing in the slow recovery and progress scenes.

The cinematography by Avik Mukhopadhyay is amazing; the quiet moments never drag but allow you to appreciate what is unfolding with an intensity that is immersive. The changing of seasons while circumstances in life’s barely keep pace with it is captured well. It took me back to a time in my life when I couldn’t do much except note the passage of seasons. This is what good cinema does, you experience the film and connect it with the story of your life.

Continue reading “October is not a love story.”