Books

My ebook

100-paths-cover-file-6I’ve published my blog as an ebook on Kindle. What is the difference, you ask? Okay, so here goes.

One, the blog is in reverse chronological order, but the book is organised as a story in chronological order from 2010 – 2015, a time when I went through huge changes and challenges in my life.

Two, I’ve left out the extra stuff (books and product reviews) and the very esoteric sort of posts that would have left many new readers scratching their heads. I’ve stuck to the main story of my life so you can see it unfolding, and you can see me evolving over the years.

Three, it’s edited 🙂

Four, my purpose was really to reach to a larger audience than my blog. My daughter Isha has a lot of faith in my writing and she feels many Indian women will relate to my story and my struggles. And so, heeding her advice, I decided to make this one-time effort and upload it on Kindle.

Five, and this is somewhat personal: I have always believed that our stories are given to us for a reason. By sharing my story, I hope to ignite someone else’s journey in faith, to encourage someone else who may be going through similar struggles. There’s no point hiding it here on a private blog. The ebook is my offering to the universe – I am literally putting my life up there, and all the lessons I’ve learnt, as my tiny little contribution to womankind.

If you’ve been reading my blog since 2010, you would be familiar with most of the posts and don’t need to buy the ebook (unless you really love me or something).

If you started reading my blog after 2015, then I suggest you read the ebook first because it covers a lot of interesting stuff – my years as a single mother, my divorce, my remarriage, my travels around the world, my company shutting down, and so on – and it’s all arranged in a proper order like a memoir.

The link to buy is here. Thank you all for being there along with me in my journey.

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Books

The seven laws of thought

I was unexpectedly invited to a book launch by the Tejgyan foundation today. I’ve never attended their events before, nor am I familiar with their philosophy. They greet one another with ‘Happy thoughts!’ said with a Namaste. I went through one of the little books in their The Source series, called Laws of Thought: 7 Steps of Transformation. I cannot resist sharing the ‘7 universal laws of thought’ here:

  1. Before anything is created in the physical plane, it is first created in the mental plane in the form of thought.
  2. What you focus on, increases.
  3. What you think consciously and feel passionately about will manifest.
  4. Others’ thoughts cannot affect you unless you allow them to.
  5. You can achieve your highest potential when your feelings, thoughts, actions and words are aligned.
  6. Everything is in abundance for everyone.
  7. The world is not as it appears to you; the world is how your thoughts are.

All these resonated deeply with me, and I am now reading the book with great attention. It has lots of little parables and stories and is written in a very simple way, but with profound universal truth. Do get it if you can.

And now go back and read the 7 laws again.

Books

When one bookworm marries another

When one bookworm marries another, there are books peeking out of nooks and crannies and the unlikeliest of places all over the home, even behind the microwave where it may have fallen off when one of you was busy heating something and then, noting the lack of something to read, nonchalantly went on to another book.

When one bookworm marries another, there aren’t enough shelves in the house and those that were meant for the pretty photo frames and candle-stands must make peace jostling for space with impressive volumes about politics and peace.

When one bookworm marries another, you end up accepting that ungainly pile of books that grows every day on both your bedside tables as just another part of marriage, like snoring and socks on the floor.

When one bookworm marries another, there are arguments about who spent more on books that month and how irresponsible it is of the other to not consider the financial situation of the country and family while making these impulse purchases, until the other points out that the one making these accusations is guilty of the same.

When one bookworm marries another, they both often get separate review copies of the same book.

When one bookworm marries another, one could be in the middle of a fast-paced crime thriller hiding in the loo to avoid distraction and come out shame-faced to see the other beseech, “You can read outside too, but I can only pee in there.”

When one bookworm marries another, one flits between both their reading lists so one ends up going from history to foreign affairs to spirituality to economics to fantasy teen fiction within a day.

When one bookworm marries another, the space on top of the cupboard is also full of books that one accuses the other of hoarding without any intention to read. And the pile is now so big that even the taller of the two cannot reach up to keep any more books on it.

When one bookworm marries another, the bedside light is on till late at night while both of you tuck into your individual reading material, and sometimes, when one turns one’s head at night, there’s a thick hardback poking its corner into one’s eye.

When one bookworm marries another, a bookshop voucher from the kid’s school leads to a bloodbath until both of you compromise and decide to use it together, and spend four times the value of the free voucher while redeeming it.

When one bookworm marries another, handbags and office briefcases and the pockets in the backseat of the car never run out of something nice to read.

When one bookworm marries another, there is total understanding at the eerie silences that greet every question because the other is absorbed in reading.

When one bookworm marries another, life appears to be a sweet, strange story that would be exotic if someone decided to write it down for people on other continents to read.

Yes, it is a good idea for one bookworm to marry another.

Books

Excerpt from ‘The Collector of Worlds’

I am reading this absolutely phenomenal book these days by Iliya Troyanov, a fictionalised piece of history based on the life and travels of Richard Burton in the 19th century. Every day I am blown over by the poetry in the prose and the richness of its tapestry. The book is rich in both the story and in the telling of it – and then as a bonus, sewn with pearls of wisdom. Here’s an excerpt:

‘A prayer designed like a law is only needed when prayer is an exception, when you step out of your life to pray. But if each of your breaths is a prayer, if everything you do is a prayer, if you honour God because you are in God, then you do not need any other sort of prayer. Eh, you already have the highest form of prayer. In the mosque, prayer is no more than a declaration of intentions, well-meaning and visible to all. It is like a boat, which you make seaworthy on shore but is only tested at sea, when you hit your first storm. Who wants to know then how good the boat looked when it was still on shore? Do you think at our moments of weakness God counts up our prayers?’

‘Baba Sidi is right. A well-lived life is the best prayer.’

Books

A bookish month

In the past few years, September has been a momentous month for me – not always in the good sense. (I’ve had some pretty painful Septembers.) This time, however, I had a really good one. Why? One, because I had a great trip to Italy with a bunch of amazing women. Two, I managed to gulp not one or two, but FOUR fabulous books this month.

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
The novel is about the beginning of time, how man began measuring it and how it eventually took over every part of our lives. Written from the point of view of Father Time, the book is simply written and quick to read – I was done in one long-haul flight – and has a few interesting takeaways in terms of insight and one-liners. But I wasn’t as blown away as I had been with Albom’s earlier books. Still, I’d say it is a pleasant read.

Another Man’s Wife by Manjul Bajaj
I haven’t read Indian fiction in a while, and was slightly skeptical if it would hold my interest over a long flight. And in fact, when I started reading this collection of short stories, I was slightly bored. But the last two kept me highly engrossed and left me thoughtful. The title story (the last in the book) is absolutely riveting. The story of a feisty married tribal woman who is offered land for her displaced family in return for being a married contractor’s mistress for six months, I couldn’t get my eyes off it despite being tired and underslept over a 20-hour journey. I want to read it again in case I missed something.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory
I love this writer so much that I wait anxiously for each book of hers. Having interviewed her once, I feel some kind of connection with her too. The book is a story of two sisters, the daughters of the Earl of Warwick from 15th-century England. As with all Gregory’s previous books, this one too is a whirlwind of palace intrigue and momentous historical events. I was interested to see how Gregory would portray Elizabeth Woodville as a villain in this side of the story (she is the protagonist of a previous book The White Queen). And I wasn’t disappointed. It seems Gregory has given everyone in the Cousins’ War a fair voice.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
A debut novel, I thought this would be one of those I could share with my teen daughters – what with all the fairy-tale beginning and fantasy-like middle – and exhorted my 15-year-old to read it. An old couple living in Alaska in the 1920s find the cold unbearable to both their being and their relationship. They ‘create’ a child out of snow and longing, and then go through years of joy and heartbreak as she comes and goes during the winter and summer. By the end of the book, however, ‘adult’ elements like sex and pregnancy sort of detract from the entire child-friendly feel and I quietly slipped it into my bookshelf when I was done. Good book for grown-ups, though! Beautifully written and highly absorbing.

It’s been a hell of a September, and the best part is, it isn’t done yet. What other fab book awaits my obsession? Come on out.

Books

Book review: ‘Artist, Undone’ by V Sanjay Kumar

When I first read Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, I was blown away by a feeling that can only be described as, “Wow, I have never ever read anything like this before. What a book.” It left me shaken and disturbed in all the wrong places, while also marvelling at the piece of true literary beauty I had just had the privilege to read.

I won’t say V Sanjay Kumar’s first novel Artist, Undone had an equal impact on me but it did remind me of The White Tiger in that I felt the same feeling of, “Wow, I have never ever read anything like this before. What a book,” when I put it down.

It begins with the story of Harsh Sinha, who describes himself as ‘fat, fucked and forty’ and has a penchant for visiting analysts. Harsh impulsively buys a hugely expensive painting simply because the person in it looks like him, and ends up losing his job, home, wife and daughter in the process. But the book is also about various other characters: his wife Gayathri (emotional, wilful, tough, vulnerable) and the Casanova artist she proceeds to have an affair with, the inventive plagiarist Newton Kumaraswamy, who paints people’s ‘private parts’ (you gotta love the double entendre there). There’s Roongta, who doggedly aspires to understand the business of art, and Manoj Tyaagi, the conman (‘naami chor‘) who buys Newton’s work by the dozen simply because he can. There’s Bhairavi, the curator who spots talent using something far more sublime than mere intelligence. There’s Jahan, the polio-afflicted American student who returns to India in search of both feet and wings, and his crush, the nymph Lisa, who seems to arouse scandals and men’s genitals every time she moves.

Most of all, there is art. Kumar uses paintings by well-known and lesser known artists to illustrate the story in colour (all due credits are given at the end). His characters research art, explain art, understand and misunderstand art, and lead their lives around the pursuit of the elusive ‘deeper meaning’ that afflicts regular people everywhere, whether in art or life. The characters are so well fleshed out that they could just be someone you know… (When I researched Sanjay Kumar online, I got this person who was in prison for securities fraud. The inspiration for Manoj Tyaagi?) … or someone the writer seems to know suspiciously well. The casual mention of names of real-life artists and writers only manages to blur further the line between fact and fiction; you never know when one ends and the other begins. As someone who seems equally adept at art, literature and business, Kumar is both condescending and compassionate in the expression of his knowledge. The reader is left to make her way about with a sense of both mild indignation and marvel.

At the end, as in Adiga’s astounding debut, you don’t feel a sympathy for the characters; there are no heroes. There’s just the raw display of humanity in all its glory and shame, its passions and poisons. A sigh escapes you when you put the book down, one of both relief and the privilege of having read a moving piece of literature. I am not sure I look forward to Kumar’s next piece – and I mean that as a compliment. He disturbs you in all the wrong places.

Books

Book review: The Prayer Room

Shanthi Sekaran’s debut novel, first published in 2009 and recently re-released by Harper Collins, looks at an inter-cultural marriage set across three countries and a host of forgotten memories. George, a British student, is forced to marry Viji, a Tamilian, after they are caught making love. What follows is the story of their marriage, as they travel across borders, time zones and life landmarks.

Inter-racial, inter-cultural marriages are commonplace today, but that doesn’t mitigate the huge ‘adjustment’ to be made by those in it. Viji must learn to deal with British and American ways of living and thinking, and overcome a childhood of psychological disturbances before she can find ‘home’. George has to learn to come to terms with his own life choices before he can completely give himself to her. Even as each grapples with inner conflicts, life happens to them relentlessly — triplets are born, an incorrigible father-in-law comes to stay, infidelity takes a casual stroll across the map of their marriage.

The book is rife with insight about relationships (“Women were spider silk, so easily torn. Men were clamoring children”), sewn with gentle wit. It’s a book in which nothing dramatic really happens (after all, what more can be said about the immigrant experience?) and yet the narrative keeps you turning the pages, if nothing else but for the sheer pleasure of Sekaran’s deliberately nonchalant play with words. A few details are extraneous, a few skeletons in the closet cliched. Even so, this is a book for lovers of the language.

And yet, I was terribly disappointed with Harper Collins’ editing — there are typographical errors every five pages, a missing space even on the cover quote! The blurb on the back describing the book as ‘hilarious and heartfelt’ does not really do justice to its various nuances and strokes of artistry.

I look forward to Sekaran’s second book; I hope she takes up a new subject and newer emotional landscapes next time.

Books · Finding God

Between the lines

I love it when I have a good book to read. And this month, I’ve had two. First, I was addicted to David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. And just yesterday I wound up Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. And I’m in literary heaven.

When I’m into a book, I’m totally into it. So the first thing I do when I get up in the morning is lock myself in the loo with it, then have breakfast poring over it, then hold on to it as I get into the car, starting to read as soon as the driver takes off towards my workplace. On my way home in the evening it’s the same story. I’m reading all through dinner, late night before the lights go off, and — in the case of Unbroken — I was reading it in the darkness while the kids slept, lit by a torch on my new phone, well into the wee hours of the morning.

What is it about a good book that keeps you hooked? No doubt it’s the story. I am not such a freak when it comes to self-help or spiritual books, though those also constitute a large part of my reading routine. I enjoy them but not to the extent that I am addicted day and night. It’s the ones with a gripping plot, feats of human endurance and strength, and impeccable, gifted writing that do the trick.

Books transport me to new worlds. My own life becomes distant, detached. Sometimes I’m totally disoriented, and if a daughter or parent calls out, I am slow to respond and recollect where I am. And this sensation — of being somewhere else — is somewhat heavenly. Your sleeping habits go for a toss, but it doesn’t harm you. On the contrary, the experience is therapeutic, healing and energizing.

When I was a kid, my mother reprimanded me about my total addiction to reading — she claimed I used reading as an escape option, that I was a coward unable to face reality and chose to drown myself in books instead, much like an alcoholic. For years, well into my twenties, I held on to her voice in my head whenever I was ‘into’ a book. My enjoyment was always coupled with a sense of guilt.

But this month, two good books in a row, I am finally able to shrug off the baggage. I am not an escapist. I am a traveller — who journeys across time and space; a sensualist — who enjoys the pleasures of the planet in her mind; a people lover — who thrives on meeting and understanding strangers from all over the world. I am a voyeur, epicurean, child. I am the complete anti-thesis of the escapist: I am not running away from the world. On the contrary, I’m saying, “Bring it on.”

Some magazines are vying for my attention this very moment: Geo, Life Positive, Forbes. Until I get my hands on the next good book, they’ll have to do.

Books

A view of the unseen

The mark of a good book is that you can’t get it out of your head for at least two days after putting it down. Penguin’s latest release The Wandering Falcon (Rs 399) is one such literary treat. This debut novel by retired Pakistani diplomat Jamil Ahmad is a series of linked short stories, set around the border where Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan meet, before the rise of the Taliban. These are the ‘forbidden areas’ not many have access to, infamous for being hotbeds of terrorism and conflict today.

To an extent, one can see why. Ahmad uncovers a world of harsh physical conditions, cruel traditions and patriarchal social codes that leave you flinching. On the other hand, there are also love, compassion and heartwarming acts of humanity. The very customs that exact fatal penalties for non-conformists also ensure a strange sense of fairness, a certain honourable code of conduct that modern diplomacy and democracy would fail miserably at.

The stories weave in and around Tor Baz, the ‘wandering falcon’ whose parents are killed because they dared to fall in love. The orphan is brought up by fate, parented by various men he meets at serendipitous moments. As he grows, he ekes a living out of being a guide and informer, trading his knowledge for money. Interestingly, the reader meets him mostly through other characters in the book, both male and female, their stories interlinked by a sleight of the writer’s talented hand. One chapter stands out: written in the first person by a dying man, it’s completely unexpected in the middle of the book, but the quirk only adds to the book’s multidimensional flavour.

Ahmad’s writing style is stark and loaded with meaning. The most inhuman acts and the sweetest kindnesses are dealt with an equal, masterful precision, devoid of judgement or irony. The writer lays out his deep knowledge and experience on the field in a sensitive, insightful, riveting way – neither defending nor criticizing the age-old tribal Afghani way of life. They are how they are, the book seems to say. Take ’em or take ’em.

Eventually, we are all one in this world, no matter how different we seem. We’re all in this together. This book has bridged an enormous gulf between some of ‘us’ and some of ‘them’. I wish the author the very best; I hope he wins something. 🙂

Books · Seeking God

Spirituality and science

One of my seniors in faith is perplexed at my constant exploration of other forms of spirituality besides the one I am committed to – Nichiren Buddhism. “Why do you want to get yourself all confused?” this dear 72-year-old asks me. “This is a fine path, just stay on it and give it your total dedication.”

I have been in this faith for 6 years now, and I love it here. The focus, determination, support and protection that I have gained from this practice is immeasurable. Oddly, though, the deeper I go in faith, the more curious I get about other spiritual paths. How do they work? What is their philosophy? The thirst is never quenched, and I keep trying out different modalities.

So in the past few years, I’ve tried out NLP, Hypnotherapy, Art of Living, Past-life Regression, Vipassana, EFT, Louise Hay affirmations, ThetaHealing, yoga, pranayam, Pranic Healing and a whole lot of other stuff I keep picking up on the way.

They all make sense, and they all work, I believe. But I always do return home to Buddhism and my daily chant of nam myoho renge kyo.

Then I got my hands on a book called ‘How God Changes Your Brain’ by Dr Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman. And I’ve reached a part in it which completely explains and vindicates my thirst for newer techniques of meditation and prayer. According to the authors, different meditations stimulate different parts of the brain. Even the communal activity that my practice involves is a benefit. They say, “Social interaction strengthens the angular cingulate’s ability to respond to others with less stress… Attend social events that include different cultures and ethnicities, and visit different churches. Experiment with unfamiliar forms of meditation and prayer, and share your experiences with others who are on a spiritual path.”

They’re not saying this with a purely altruistic motive; they’re talking neuroscience. Spirituality is good for the brain and helps you live longer, happier and healthier.

These are some more points from the book:

• Your thoughts clearly affect the neurological functioning of your body.

• Optimism is essential for maintaining a healthy brain.

• Positive thoughts neurologically suppress negative thoughts.

• When you change the way you think, you begin to change your outward circumstances.

• Consciousness, reality, your mind, and your spiritual beliefs are profoundly interconnected and inseparable from the functioning of your brain.

So I am on the right path! Join me?

(You can participate in Dr Newberg’s online research on spirituality’s connection with science on their website http://www.neurotheology.net)