There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Poetry without words..

By Ananya Mukherjee

It starts with a soft feathery stroke that sends the innermost chords of your soul vibrating in a poignant resonance. The next few minutes transport you to another hear the rippling gurgling streams meandering through deep dark gorges, you float in the fluidity of that motion, prancing in circles, tiptoeing over the slippery rocky water bed. Then you hear the soft musings of a distant flute slowly weaving into that trance, further elevating you to a higher platform where each of your pulse is touched by a subtle yet powerful energy that brings you to submission. With each passing moment, the vision of the valley becomes more lucid in your mind. This is what happens when master instrumentalist Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and music maestro Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia perform a Jugalbandi.

It was indeed poetry without words as the celebrated duo Shiv-Hari performed for a packed audience at the Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore, last week.  The magical pair was accompanied by Shri Vijay Ghate on Tabla and Pandit Bhawani Shankar on the Pakhawaj. 

The evening opened appropriately with Raga Yaman, a solo composition played by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, the undisputed king of Santoor. The raga popularly known as Kalyani in Carnatic is one of the most important and engaging ragas of Hindustani classical music and the composition by Pandit Sharma gave it a distinct character that revealed a sense of tranquillity. The accompaniment on the Pakhawaj added to that dimension. If I were left to translate my imagination in words, I saw myself sitting alone at the ghats of the holy Ganges, somewhere up north, near Haridwar or Rishikesh, watching a flood of floating diyas disappearing in the river after the evening aarti. If you have ever done that, you will know what I mean.  

This evening raga was followed by a solo based on Raga Kirwani from the world renowned exponent of Baansuri (bamboo flute),Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Needless to say, the spotless and haunting rendition kept the audience enthralled. Though a strictly Carnatic raga, traces of Pilu could be found in the composition, the treatment was both romantic and passionate. Very easily the music could transcend the territorial limitations of space and take you by the Yamuna river to catch a glimpse of a divine poetry in motion. Vijay Ghate on the Tabla thundered like clouds rumbling in that backdrop and further accentuated the tempo and the mood.

The second session was the more energetic part of the evening as the two maestros left the audience mesmerised by a soulful Jugalbandi based essentially on the elegant late evening Raga Khamaj, skilfully improvised with popular light classical and folk music like Aayo kahan se ghana shyam and Okey aaj chole jete bolona Lolita. As the rendition unfolded phrases for each artiste to follow, the music intensified and the percussion accelerated the rhythm, the cadence conversing matchlessly with the Santoor and the Baansuri.
So spiritually enriching and soul stirring was the musical journey that I had to sit back and think, did I really need words to express myself, to convey my desires or passions, to elaborate on my dreams and fantasies, or to fight the innermost fears of my soul? Most of all, when there is music such as this, don’t I need to rephrase my prayers?

Musically yours,

The Vision

By Bilwanath Chatterjee
Kolkata, India

Tales from the Maximum City

By Abdullah Khan
New Delhi, India

In his Booker-winning debut novel The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga exposed  the ugly underbelly of the shining India. The antagonist of his debut book, Balram Halwai, was  a country bumpkin, who learned the ways of city folks quickly to climb the ladder of the social hierarchy. He didn’t  give a damn  about  the unethical and criminal aspects of his acts, and even philosophically justified his misdeeds, including his employer’s murder. Balram Halwai, in fact, was just an instrument for the author to paint a broader  picture of the greed-infested and rabidly capitalist post- 1991 India- the country which once took pride in its Gandhian legacy but now being run by the carpetbaggers, pimps and middlemen. Adiga continues with the same leitmotif in his second novel (and third book) Last Man in Tower. 
The protagonist this time around is  Yogesh Murthy- a  retired schoolteacher known as Masterji among his neighbours. An atheist and a highly principled man  he lives in an old crumbling housing society known as the Vishram Housing Society. Built during the 1950s the society is the only ‘absolutely, unimpeachably pucca’ structure in the entire Vakola area of Mumbai, which mostly comprises of  slums. The society in itself is a miniature of India; with all its religious and cultural diversity. The residents vary from a retired accountant, a small time real estate broker, an internet cafĂ© owner, to a social worker, etc. There are Hindus  Muslims and Christians. They are Punjabis, Gujaratis, Sindhis, Bengalis, etc.  But despite their different culture and faith the residents live like one happy extended family.
One day, a well known Mumbai-based builder Dharmen Shah’s prying eyes fall on this society and he decides to buy it to build his dream project-  a luxurious residential complex.  He sends his emissary with tempting  offers to all the society residents to sell their apartments to him. As the last date of the offer deadline  nears, all the flat owners give in   except ‘Masterji’. For Masterji the house harbours the priceless memories of his long gone daughter and  recently deceased wife. His neighbours do not understand all this  and start considering him a  big  hurdle in the way of their prosperity. At first,  they try to convince him but when he refuses to budge, they  start conspiring against him. Even his close friend Albert Pinto abandons  him.
Thematically speaking, the novel is a discourse on the changing yardsticks of morality of the  Indian middle class where values and ethics mean nothing, and where material possession stands for everything. Masterji here symbolises the last remnant of the ideals on which the idea of India was conceived. Dharmen Shah, on the other hand, represents today’s India. Like Balram Halwai he rises from the dirt and becomes a shining star. He does not shy away from performing morally or ethically wrong deeds if they guarantee him success. Just like Balram Halwai. 
During the last two decades India has witnessed  rapid economic growth that has created a big middle class and even bigger lower class. The former  has great material aspirations and is  simply brutal in its approach to achieving its goals. This upward mobility among the middle class has also created a huge demand for real estate. In the absence of any real  government control, real estate  has become a haven for unscrupulous and unethical businessmen. Under the political patronage, these builders function like the mafia- conducting their business with the stamp of legality. Adiga, undoubtedly, has created the character of Dharmen Shah from those real people. 
Aravind Adiga has worked equally hard on all the characters. From the strange  and secretive Secretary of the society to the guard Ram Khare, he has fleshed out each character equally well.. But, the central character Masterji doesn’t get the space he deserves. Even Dharmen Shah should have made his appearance more frequently. Further, the way Masterji’s neighbours behave after committing a ghastly crime doesn’t appear to be plausible. At places, the dialogue seems to be in the need of the tightening.
An apt commentary on the contemporary India but when it comes to literary merit , his last book Between the Assignations was better.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


By Aziz Rahman
Manama, Bahrain

The Charm of Battered Books

By Aloke Kumar
Kolkata, India

Broken-backed and dog-eared, the more decrepit these volumes are the more I love them. How about you?
Some days back my friend Sundar (Dhritiman Chaterji ) posted an article from The Guardian or was it the Times London about the charm of battered books and the author stated that he loves them and asked 'How about you ?' .... I wanted to scream to him ...." Me too!! Me too!! "
You see, I inherited my father's antiquarian library and some of the books are battered. In spite of my best intentions, I have not been able to get them repaired as the old Muslim binders are either deceased or have returned to, what we call Bangladesh.
But that aside, I love battered books. Even if you give me the opportunity to exchange them for new books I will not. I absolutely adore these books.

Even those battered, tattered paperbacks . They have no manners. They always give away at odd places. Loose. Vagabond. More like Jack Kerouac on the road. But I love them . Even if you give a new paperback instead, I will decline. I have, you see, already got a copy. You might think that, given the rather sad state of it, being torn and tattered, I would jump at the chance of a clean, fresh, free copy. But that never occurred to me. My old 1960s paperback might be battered, bruised and beaten, but it is truly beloved.

I'm not sure how long I've had those paperbacks . Thirty years at least; probably twenty. Maybe more. I've read it perhaps half a dozen times. And each time I take it from the shelf, another sheaf of pages has come loose. The glue in the binding has deteriorated some more. The spine is scuffed and ripped, the cover is fading by degrees. But I could no more consider getting rid of it than I could get rid of my pet dying of old age.
The book doesn't have any particular emotional ties – it wasn't given to me by a loved one, nor found in any special place. I didn't read it for the first time one unforgettable night. But – for reasons that seem unclear and perhaps a bit odd now I come to examine them – I just wouldn't get rid of it, or replace it with a new copy.

Perhaps it's because my books have travelled with me all my life, their numbers swelling, becoming a much more unwieldy herd whenever I've had to move house. They've been lent out, brought back; their spines have been cracked and their pages spread-eagled on tables and floors; they've been rubbed with remains of food as we carry them to our dining tables and their corners turned down.
Perhaps it's because they mutely accept such abuse with the faithful, unconditional stoicism that I don't part with them. They've toiled hard for me, in difficult circumstances. Many a night lending company, helping me to draft a note or even help prepare a project for my son. When my son Rahul wanted a poem to read out in the next day’s class I took out the Poems of Yesteryears and realized that the book is much older to him. In fact most of the books are. It is because of this, like some benevolent squire of old I feel it's my duty to provide a comfortable place for them in their twilight years.
I have different relations with my antique books and paperbacks. For the antique books I treat them with kid gloves. I take the book from the shelf, avoiding too much dragging. I place the book gently on its spine and on a flat surface. Using a hand on each side, allow the book to open somewhere near the middle. I turn to the place I want by turning sections of the book over. I never press down on the pages near the joint or force the boards back beyond the flat position.

Whereas for the paperbacks,the rules are different. They shouldn't be wilfully mistreated, but we shouldn't handle them with kid gloves. If they pick up imperfections and blemishes, so what? A less than pristine book is a book with character. As we might, in time, come to look at our books as our friends, come to share with us the scars and scratches of life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Truly Madly Deeply....

Everyone has a love story; yes, irrelevant of the time in which we are born, irrespective of the socio-economic or cultural backgrounds we come from, each one of us has a love story, one that takes us hostage and slowly begins to regulate our lives.  Leaning on this thought and to discover a bit more, My Little Magazine brings to you a tete-a-tete with Faraaz Kazi, author of Truly Madly Deeply…

MLM: How did Truly Madly Deeply happen?
Faraaz: The inspiration behind the tale was my school life. I knew I had to write about them, there was so much to write, so many events to capture on paper and I had to keep out a lot of things lest the book ended up looking like the Britannica encyclopaedia the protagonist in my novel drops on his leg in the library.  Honestly speaking, the book stems from a short story I had written for a national story-writing competition of a popular newspaper, seven years back. Once it won there, I knew it had potential and six years and a creative writing course later, an idea came into my head that it could be expanded into a novel. People advised me against it, saying it will lose the flavour of brevity. But I believe if your heart says so, then there’s no use delaying it. I had the plot, I just changed the surroundings a bit and did all the things that fiction writers do, to make it more appealing and more pleasurable to the reader.

MLM: Is it everyone's story or your own?
Faraaz: Like most first novels TMD has some autobiographical shades but they have been amalgamated well enough to make it difficult for the reader to segregate fact from fiction. The story deals with obsessive love at an age where the same emotion is described by prefixing a ‘puppy’ to it. As each one of us has passed through that turbulent phase, TMD automatically becomes a tale that everyone can connect with. I have had many people, even grownups who told me that the tale takes them back to their own days of fun and glory.The primary target though has been young readers as the tale involves them.

MLM: What has been the best thing you have heard about the book?
Faraaz: The most common thing I get to hear from people is that the book takes them back to their own school days when there was no fear of tomorrow, no complaints against bosses and of course just careless fun with no responsibilities. All these things kept aside the best compliment for any author is when the readers connect to their work, feel the emotions of the character as theirs and laugh and cry with the protagonist. That way, I have been blessed to see many readers connecting to TMD and telling me such was their tale too. Many readers have reviewed it on their blogs and online bookstores, praising it no end. It feels good to see that and does make you feel proud.Of course, expectations go up then and I often encounter the question now ‘What’s next?’ and ‘When do we get to read it?

MLM: What is the worst criticism about Truly Madly Deeply that you have faced so far?
Faraaz: I respect all my readers, irrespective of the fact that they liked my work or not. Critics are good as long as criticism is healthy but criticism done to malign someone, to push them down the ladder or just to avenge a personal grudge is immature and shows the critic’s unbalanced state of mind. I have had people (read ‘writers’) who have portrayed themselves like true friends while talking to me and behind my back; they posted a common template on most online sites advising people against buying the book. Next I have seen readers from the West who have gone through the error ridden draft copy of the book (read ‘The Kindle Edition’) through Amazon, thanks to a major irresponsibility on my publisher’s part and such people came down heavy on me through Online forums and the like. Some blamed it on their age saying that they are no longer that young to connect to this work, some said the writing style is a little self-indulgent and it went on.

MLM: What’s next?
Faraaz:  Haha, I still dread the writer’s block and have been at the receiving end of it but these days it’s quite the opposite with me, I have a lot to write but I am not finding the time to sit and pen it down. I am working on a college romance, quite contemporary again and a book of short-stories with a little twist of fantasy. Then again there’s a literary story of a female protagonist that I have been working on since quite a while but have stalled it for the moment as my current focus is on the other two. I don’t keep deadlines in mind, so I have no idea when I will manage to complete them. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

I love him and he does not like sambhar

By Anindita Baidya
Anand, Gujarat, India

Illustration: By Prodipto Roy
Kolkata, India

So what? The yet-to-be married would question! Love will anchor you, what does Sambhar have to do when there is love? It has to.  The married friends may agree.
I am Meenakshi, A Tam-Brahm (Tamil Brahmin) born in Tirunelvali, nurtured within a joint family, nourished with love, care, Karnatic music and Sambhar. Do not misunderstand me; I do not go about talking about my caste and religion to everyone I meet. But for the benefit of the story, I have to.
Well, after completing my BA in my home town, I proceeded to Mumbai for an MA and then my life changed forever.
There I met Shubhro, an aspiring Bengali architect and fell in love with him.  And married him.  So do I say, “Aur khatam ho gayee story?”  No Friends, my story begins here.
Before the wedding, I often visited Madhu and Keshav, my friends, who were already married.  I shared my deepest secrets, wildest dreams and worst fears with them.  I also remember saying, “Shubhro and I think alike.  We have no difference, except for the difference in food taste.” Madhu warned, “Wait and see how that difference proves to be a larger than life one!” I ignored her.  Love will sail us through, I convinced myself!
After the marriage, I visited my in-laws’ rural household at Bardhaman.  Relatives from far and near arrived to meet the MADRASI bahu. 
“I am not from Madras, you see!” I tried to explain, “I am from Tirunelveli!” To that, the elder ladies said, “Oi holo...” which translated literally, implies, “It is all the same, dear!” but the attitude was more of, “Who cares...” and I was hurt!  But then, to them, Madras was a Geographical area in the south India, which contained in itself, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra...whatever.  And residents of these areas, Madrasis.
But the younger generation listened to the interesting stories of my hometown and the young girls were interested in the herbal paste I used for bath and the saris I wore.
My palate was in for a shock, for sure.  I have been a pure vegetarian throughout my life and here I was in a household where not one vegetarian meal could be thought of.  If I chose only dal-chawal, there was the fish head in the dal and if I chose curry, I found shrimps with bottle gourd. 
But my considerate in-laws helped me tide over those days and took extra care to prepare special vegetarian dishes for me but in that one month at Bardhaman, my tongue started tingling for tamarind taste.
Back in Mumbai after the holiday, I was on my own to cook whatever I liked and live as I wanted to.  Or so I thought!  
I was by then getting used to share a bed with another person; I was also, after a few protests getting used to Shubhro waking up in the morning and switching off the fan before leaving the room! He would often forget, he explained, that there was someone else in the room too!
My culinary skills were ready for the new challenge.  So day after day I would prepare the best of Sambhar, rasam, curries but I also noticed that day after day Shubhro’s appetite was decreasing.
The cat was let out slowly.  He did not enjoy Sambhar, he said.  Ok, so I cooked Sambhar for myself and made dal for him, but he wanted Masoor dal, he said.  So I had to cook two different dals. 
I had decided to be a full-time home manager and thus took over the entire job of managing the household and kitchen on my own.  So, Shubhro, once a great cook, as claimed by him, had to remain out of my work-station.
So began our new life with our new journey.  I could not figure out why he wanted that sugar and cardamom in the potato curry and he was shocked to find that the spinach was put into dal, he wanted it dry, he said.  Now that I had the control of the kitchen, my Shubhro craved for fish, which by default was not brought in.
Gradually my work space was expanded to accommodate Shubho and his fish.  He was not much of a meat-eater and about eggs, I had no problem in boiling one or two for his breakfast which satisfied him.  But fish was an integral part of his life and now that I was also an integral part of him, he was faced with difficult choice to make!
My wise mother-in-law once narrated a small piece, in praise of the favourite Ilish (Hilsa) and Bengali’s love for it.  She said according to them, “The Himalayas lie at the summit of the earth, on Himalayas, sits the Lord Shiva, from his head (summit again) flows The Ganges and on the Ganges is the Ilish.”  So, teh Ilish is above all; above caste, creed, religion, sex.  Thank you ilish for delivering the message of equality among us.
This piece of wisdom dawned upon me and I thus welcomed the fish inside my kitchen.  After all, Shubhro had never had a meal without fish and how could I expect him to do so, now?
So, gradually peace was restored.  He of course enjoyed the idli-chuntney as much as I loved the loochi (Poori). When I would be down with cold and flu, Shubhro would prepare a hot rasam and pamper me! But he could not develop any affinity for my humble sambhar and I continued running for life whenever the fish was fried in the mustard oil.  That was double offence: fish and mustard oil.
There were some other differences which we never spoke about to each other too.  I would often wish that he would read with me, Eric Segal, after dinner and he remained stuck before my Sauten, the television.  I sulked for a few days and when I confronted, he said, how he wished I watch the Indiana Jones series sitting by his side!  Oh, both of us had hidden wishes which never was vocalised.
“Shout at each other but don’t sulk!” Madhu and Keshav adviced us and we complied. 
So amidst our agreement on quarrels, dislikes, differences, we also discovered how similarly we thought about our future, how alike we were in thoughts about what our children should watch on TV and we had no differences while deciding that both his and my parents should be with us at their old age. We shared the same passion for music, only if, he said I could understand the Rabindra-sangeet he sung for me, I wished he understood Thiruvasagam lyrics but we enjoyed music so Tagore or Thiruvasagam, both of us drowned ourselves in them.
And the roads we treaded may be similar to the ones most of the couples have done but for us, it was for the first time.  Two weeks later, we will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  We have two beautiful angelic children.  My daughter is a prodigy in Karnatic music while my son does the honours for his dad, cooking up the best of fish-dishes.  He aspires to be a cook, he says.
No I do not eat or cook fish yet.  But I love this fish-eater (No not a cat) called my husband.  And he continues disliking sambhar till date....... 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The God Maker

By Prodipto Roy
Kolkata, India

Thursday, July 7, 2011

To touch the face of the divine...

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA

Rocks with a million stories untold,
Sunsets that paint the valleys gold.
Still waters that run way deep,
Secrets of the universe within, they keep.
When time stands still as a million stars shine,
Maybe just for a fleeting moment,
you touched the face of the Divine…

I came back to the hotel that night after a night cruise on the Colorado River, gently gliding along the rock walls of the Canyonlands and I had no other words or feelings that could capture all that I felt. I cannot recall a moment in my adult life where I was that spellbound, humbled and in awe of the beauty of the Universe in a single moment.
The rock faces told of many stories of how the earth was formed, geologic and scientific the tales were real and interesting. The gradually setting sun told a myriad tales as the skies turned from the scorching ochres to smoother, softer blues and gentle purples. The soft sounds of the water told the tales of this amazing river that goes on to form the Grand Canyon that is visible from space. The quiet power and prowess of the Colorado River tells the stories and fables of history and carry with it so many memories.
The 40,000 watt illumination talk to the history of Utah, the ancient people, the tribes, the tales of love and sacrifice. The sound and light show is spectacular and is as beautifully presented, as is interesting and informative.
The final story teller of this night is the sky with a million stars and a few shooting stars and the soft glistening Milky Way. No one can decipher the stories they tell as one looks back in time and space to see their light reaching us through time. There are no words to fathom the surreality of the moment of the beauty of what one feels within. I recall looking up and finding my vision blurring at times. I thought my glasses were hazy, turned out it was just my eyes. Emotions that run so deep within you sometimes find no words, happiness, sorrow, pain, joy, at moments like this are transfixed and a few tears of gratitude spill out.
You are humbled to be a part of the universe and you realize how small and insignificant you are and yet, you have a role to play in this world, a bit of joy to give, a bit of love to get maybe.. who knows? Your past, your present, your future, all stand still in time and your soul is never the same again, because through all this, you were, for a fleeting second, able to touch the face of the Divine…

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Aamchi Mumbai

By Uday Deb
Mumbai, India