Saturday, August 28, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage / Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Committed picks up where the international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love left off. Elizabeth Gilbert is still travelling but not solo — on a quest but not for the same reasons. The last time she went into exile to Italy, India and Indonesia, it was self-imposed and involved food and spiritual enlightenment. The latest one to Southeast Asia, however, has been brought on by circumstances beyond her control and is about facing her deepest fear head on.

The title of this memoir may be Committed but Elizabeth has not gotten over her dread of matrimony. She has been committed to the institution of marriage before and has no interest in going back. Thus far she has successfully evaded capture and is determined to do anything — anything at all to avoid “going through that apocalypse”. Details of that particular ‘apocalypse’ can be found in the pages of her previous book — Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia, recently turned into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts.

While she is content to be in a long distance relationship with a foreigner, her government, sadly, is not. And so Elizabeth Gilbert is “sentenced to marry”. By the US Department of Homeland Security no less and unless she complies, the US will close its doors to her man. Permanently. Suddenly, she is forced to come to terms with her scary marital history and make peace with the idea of marriage.

It gets worse. Soon, any American interested in marrying an outsider will have to undergo an FBI investigation. Thus begins an agonisingly long wait and an obligatory return to a nomadic life. Elizabeth uses this unexpected break to her advantage, raking through her private history and public records to determine “what this befuddling, contradictory, and yet stubbornly enduring institution of marriage actually is”.

As their travels take Elizabeth and her fiancĂ© off the beaten path, she will make a solitary journey armed with the works of eminent matrimonial scholars to better understand her “inherited assumptions, the shape of her family’s narrative and her culturally specific catalogue of anxieties”. She argues that she must be vigorously persuaded because matrimony has not always been kind to women. This involves extensive time travelling to explore the primitive notions about marriage and divorce. Turns out that marriage was not always considered sacred even within Christian tradition, (they resisted for at least 10 centuries) and this discovery alone allows her to stop stringing together the terms sin and failure with divorce and finally let herself off the hook.

Elizabeth, who has been watching the women in her family “adapt, adjust, glide and accept”, is painfully aware that her advantageous childhood has been built on the ashes of her mother’s sacrifices. She comes across some alarming statistics claiming that a long, happy, healthy, prosperous existence awaits married men who are the sole beneficiaries of this union.

She will also embark on parallel journeys to decipher the modern interpretation of marriage while closely examining its evolutionary nature, which she believes actually ensures its survival. This is nice because it really needed to change. In Europe, a nasty practice known as ‘coverture’ forced women to renounce their legal rights and property, “doubling a man’s power as his wife’s evaporated”. She further observes that combined with the strict anti-divorce policies of the church, marriage became an institution that entombed and erased its female victims — especially among the gentry. Trace amounts of this troubling ruling could be detected as late as 1975 and prevented married women (like Elizabeth’s mother) from opening checking accounts or taking out loans without their husband’s written permission.

While she wanders through the pages of history, learning new facts (apparently, even a seagull that supposedly mates for life has a 25 percent divorce rate) and putting the marriages of her friends and family on the stand, Elizabeth must also introduce marital customs of distant lands. This is a part travelogue, after all. In the hills of northern Vietnam, for instance, reside the Hmong, convinced that it does not matter whom one marries “and with rare exceptions, one man is pretty much the same as another”. Their depressing worldview has held them in good stead thus far.

The writer, on the other hand, duels with her deep seated insecurities and reveals the sort of marriage she is likely to have — “wifeless, motherless and husbandless” — which simply means that neither would be obligated to fulfil the traditional role of housekeeper or breadwinner. It also means that she will proudly defend the decision to join an “Auntie Brigade” instead of enlisting in the “Mommy Corps”. Members of the exclusive brigade will be pleased to learn that they are in great company — Tolstoy, Capote, Lennon and the Bronte sisters, all raised by doting aunts.

Elizabeth freely admits that the point of the whole exercise is just to talk herself into tying the knot. And this leads to an elaborately crafted, highly illuminating, (delightful) discourse between a sceptic and western marriage.

First Published in Daily Times under the title of 'For better or worse' 28 Aug 2010

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Viking Adult;
Pp 285;
Rs 1,150

Available at Liberty Books

BOOK REVIEW: EAT PRAY LOVE: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert /Reviewed for Liberty Books Blog by: Afrah Jamal

Link to Liberty books Blog: EAT PRAY LOVE: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia



A magazine assignment took a 30 something woman from NY to Bali where a ninth generation medicine man prophesied her return. She keeps her appointment because he said she would but also makes fresh plans; putting her old life on hold, signing up for an extreme religious experience in India and enrolling in language courses in Italy – because she realized she should.

‘Exhausted by the cumulative consequences of a lifetime of hasty choices and chaotic passions’, Elizabeth Gilbert will leave the ruins of her former life (nasty break-up & all) and head out into the wilderness for some very unusual R&R. Her spirits demand an instant pick me up and a dramatic makeover.

This voyage of self discovery requires that she take a year off, trading in the comforts of home for the comforts of Europe and the discomfort of the third world. Somewhere in another book she has described her foray into the unknown as ‘an experiment with solitude and self accountability’. Most people seeking spiritual rehabilitation probably would not have plotted such an elaborate course to enlightenment. Most people might also have had some trouble lining up eager publishers willing to purchase their book about these experiences beforehand. Moreover, they would think twice before taking their private demons out for a public walk.

Elizabeth is different. Not only does she provide an unflinching portrayal of her post break-up self but she also allows readers to accompany her on a retrieval mission starting from the dreary base camp littered with the debris of wrecked relationships all the way to the summit. And she still manages to make most of it sound funny, which is remarkable.

Here is someone struggling to find her way back, first through food, then with meditation and finally with love and more meditation. She engages in conversations with the Almighty, herself, her mind, invisible dead Guru’s, visible Balinese healers etc. She falls head over heels with a pizzeria in Naples and makes friends with people who have names like Luca Spaghetti (no offence intended). She talks to herself in a notebook, and the notebook talks back.

Indonesia is about learning to ‘hold steady in this chaotic world’ from the good Balinese – global masters of balance. Italy is simpler. The closest Elizabeth gets to art is in the ‘National Museum of Pasta’ which is fine since she just intends to savour their ‘beautiful food’ and rich language. India is, of course reserved for that all important transcendent experience (that will ‘transport her from portals of the universe’ taking her to the centre of God’s palm). At every terminal she checks in demons along with her baggage. After each stop, she summons a new-found spiritual discipline to vanquish these unwelcome travel companions.

A wonderful assortment of friends, family and well wishers are stationed throughout bringing basket loads of humour, advice and insight. There will either be a Richard, Elizabeth’s Texas Yogi – helping her become more anchored or Iva, her Lebanese friend back home, who comes with ‘an Iva-only Bat-Phone to the universe & an open-round-the-clock special channel to the divine’ making her understand the mysteries of the world.

An article called ‘The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon’, chronicling Ms. Gilbert’s experiences as a bartender became the basis for ‘Coyote Ugly’ – the movie. And now the quest for divine communion and Italian food that drove her halfway across the world is the basis for another.

ISBN: 9781408810101

No of Pages: 382

Price: Rs. 695

Available at Liberty Books

Monday, August 23, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: THE POWER BY RHONDA BYRNE Reviewed for Liberty Books Blog

Review posted here : The Power

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal


Like Po the Kung Fu master wannabe discovered in ‘Kung Fu Panda’ – there is no secret ingredient, so shall the readers. The power that has created such frenzy lies in one word.

Rhonda Byrne believes everyone has power over their circumstances, and yet their lives careen out of control. Throughout history, anyone with a good life has, knowingly or unknowingly, used the ‘Power’. The rest are oblivious to its life changing potential and mope around sadly.

The premise here is simply – if you want something – it is yours for the taking; health, wealth, happiness, career, successful relationships – all yours.

Finding this power does not require any major suspension of disbelief. Ancient records attest to its existence. It manifests itself in the form of inexplicable moments like a charmed life, that incredible comeback, a miraculous recovery, an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Those who have seen it in action may know it by different names – will power, faith or serendipity.

For Ms. Byrne it is simpler. The secret that the world has been waiting with bated breath to hear is the love that resides within each of us.

Wait what? Love! At first the revelation comes across as a bit of an anticlimax. All the secrecy, that incredibly moving you tube video, the label announcing that this is the ‘handbook to the greatest power in the universe’ – that was about l’amore?

Rhonda does not refer to love in vague terms but equates it with other forces of nature like gravity or electromagnetism. Their existence is indisputable and love happens to be in the same category but is far more formidable.

This love is not just a feeling but a positive force, the only one of its kind and governed by laws of attraction which happen to be the most powerful laws in the universe. Properly harnessed, it can give complete control over every little aspect of life. She assigns extraordinary powers to emotions. ‘Positivity’ begets ‘positivity’, and vice versa.

Apparently, this is science and not some kind of voodoo. “Whether your thoughts and feelings are good or bad, they return as automatically and precisely as an echo”. She asserts that such emotions have magnetic frequencies and this magnetism attracts everything towards you. Feelings also determine the polarity of this field (good feelings = positive frequency of love), attracting people, events and circumstances that happen to be on a similar frequency. Job (3:25) backs her on this. “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me”.

It is like that old adage “you are what you eat”, only here “you are what you feel” and what you feel is what you get. Taking feelings off auto pilot is therefore recommended because reacting to the negative with bad feelings attracts more negativity. She then takes it further – one can have anything just by visualizing it. “Imagine it, feel it, receive it.” Personal experiences follow on the heels of this startling observation.

This sounds suspiciously easy. One just has to be happy and give happiness to receive happy things, and by occasionally wishing peace and goodwill for mankind, ones hearts desires will magically appear at the door?

Well, yes. And no.

There is a process. Using ‘The Power’ calls for engaging with the Universe and making it a part of every day life requires major adjustments. One must take hate, greed, envy, malice, irritability, despair, doubts & insecurities out of business and put love in charge.

This is not the first time Rhonda Byrne has made such claims. A few years ago she came across a secret that had been passed on through centuries. Sharing that knowledge in her bestseller (appropriately named ‘The Secret’) made her an instant phenomenon. That knowledge has reportedly transformed tens of millions of lives across the globe. ‘The Power’ unearths patterns in seemingly random events adding another layer to the tale.

As for financial security that everyone craves but not everyone gets – her analysis is that majority of the worlds’ wealth is in the hands of a few percent and redistributing the money will not alter this ridiculous fact. Money will find its way back to a select few who magnetize it back to them. “The force of love moves all the money and riches in the world and it moves it according to the law.”

The solution? “Change the way you feel about money, the amount of money in your life will change. The better you feel about money, the more money you magnetize to yourself”. Apparently desire for money is not enough. Money will stick only if it is not being repelled by ones insecurities. Constantly worrying about it is a repellent. Generosity is always nice.

Her guide to getting career, relationships or health back on track advocates letting love dictate terms instead of other emotions. She is joined by historians, prophets, philosophers, scientists, poets and playwrights who appear to have some inkling of the Power’s potential.

So if people were to subscribe to this notion, they would go around being nice to everyone – all the time. They would stop complaining and be grateful for every little thing. They might get their dream house, job, spouse, car, horse, life simply by willing it. They would be able to manipulate their age and take control of their health by reprogramming their bodies. Jet lag, for instance would be a thing of the past. Mind over matter would always be in style. Sporadic acts of kindness would be the rage. Man would be one step closer to finding salvation.

‘The Power’ promises to help everyone who has a rendezvous with destiny, keep their appointment just by changing their outlook.

Available at Liberty Books

Published Date: 17/08/2010
Format: HardBack
ISBN: 9780857201706
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 270
Retail price: Pound £ 14.99
(Rs. 1,872.40)
Price: Rs. 1,495.00

Sunday, August 22, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Bridging Partition: People’s Initiatives for Peace Between India and Pakistan

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Book Edited by Smitu Kothari and Zia Mian with Kamla Bhasin, A H Nayyar and Mohammad Tahseen

Published in Daily Times / Aug 21, 2010

They have been locked in a near permanent state of confrontation for six decades, stopping only to make feeble overtures of peace to pacify onlookers. These 63-year-olds have great reserves of animosity left over from 1947. They renew their peace pledges often but test each other’s patience daily. And they get flustered easily, which makes them the two most predictable nations in the neighbourhood. When they are not exchanging words, they are exchanging fire. If nothing else, cyber armies from both sides have been seen invading ‘enemy’ websites. With their history of violence and a tendency to overreact, many wonder if Pakistan and India can ever break the pattern and maybe, just maybe, consider the merits of peace instead of dreaming about the spoils of war.

Both nations have a rich culture, an admirable stockpile of weapons to wave in each other’s face and unresolved issues dating back to partition. They are similar in many ways with an appalling record of skipping greys when it comes to relating history, a selective memory and an embarrassing tendency to get carried away at arms expos. Each of them has made great strides over the years in developing that stockpile at the expense of the poor while making sincere looking attempts to heal the breach.

Their citizens, on the other hand, have made greater strides in cultivating relationships and devising creative little ways of bridging the divide. People are weary of the perpetual stand off while the world is just plain scared.

This is a thought provoking collection of essays by prominent social activists, scientists, journalists, scholars and military men from both sides who declared peace on their respective neighbours a few decades ago. They are not alone and introduce readers to likeminded individuals who feel the need for some intervention and have taken it upon themselves to exploit the strengths and shared heritage to bring their people closer. These brave souls engage in candid discussions, freely admitting their collective faux pas. This frankness gets some into trouble with their own.

Since the 1990s, such forces have ‘defied the divide’, actively seeking an alternate lifestyle to the one thrust upon them by their political representatives. Beena Sarwar equates these attempts to streams “nourishing the land — heading towards a river, skirting obstacles, being replaced by others when they dry up, effective in strengthening the peace movement but still counting upon the political will to succeed.” A former head of the Indian Navy continues to believe, much to the dismay of some, that they need a new approach to convert the traditional confrontation method to one of cooperation and convergence. Here are individuals who have their own interpretation of the ‘greater good’.

Mubashir Hasan, founder member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) calmly states that the ruling elites from both sides are genuinely afraid of peace breaking out between them. Apparently, the status quo benefits vested interests and both nations cannot seem to coordinate their peace talks; when one is willing, the other is not.

The states’ priorities may have gotten a little mixed up on the way to the negotiating table. Their people, however, have proven to be surprisingly committed to the idea of peace. Citizens have been battling prejudices, blasting away propaganda, tearing down walls of distrust and establishing neutral zones to engage each other in meaningful dialogue. They also have a formidable arsenal of their own and are not afraid to use it. Their combined assault has yielded results in the form of ‘India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative’, allowing retired senior military men and their wives to meet with their counterparts in 1999 and 2000 for instance. Other peace networks like ‘Pakistan Peace Coalition’ (1999) and ‘Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace’ (2001) have been active in both countries while civil society initiatives, coalitions and single-issue organisations provide requisite platforms to foster ties. They have made remarkable progress in crossing borders through performing arts and mobilising the common man. Sandeep Pandey and Sanat Mohanty share memories of the peace march from Delhi to Multan (2005) that describe moving scenes witnessed at every turn of their historic journey.

One learns of the challenges that lie ahead for peace brokers and the obstacles they have to overcome trying to pitch their peace plan to the sceptics. These essays also examine the benefits of ‘waging peace’ ranging from economic prosperity (by allowing corporate sectors a stake in each other’s economic pie) to regional stability (demanding a South Asian nuclear weapons-free zone).

Though their attempts are continually thwarted, the citizen diplomacy movement can take heart; Bridging Partition asserts that their contribution has helped shape policies and build networks that change lives and perspectives. Visa restrictions notwithstanding, they have managed to get their message across, reaching out to mend fences and construct a durable framework that does not fall apart every time there is some little ‘incident’. There is no shortage of goodwill needed to keep Operation Peace going.

Published under the title: Waging peace — Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Saturday, August 14, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Sunset — The Rise & Fall of the Lahore Durbar Author: Amarinder Singh

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times under the heading: Lahore Durbar in free fall

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

After the Mughals exited, but before the British arrived, the Lahore Durbar was presided over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bahadur, affectionately known as the ‘Lion of Lahore’, who makes a brief appearance in Amarinder Singh’s narrative, but leaves a lasting impression on his history.

Ranjit Singh, who has been described in the book as a great man and an outstanding military commander, was a mass of contradictions. For instance, he was against the death penalty but not averse to robbing widows, believed treaties were meant to be broken but treated the vanquished with kindness, and thought nothing of inviting guests only to divest them of their most prized possession — like the Kohinoor diamond. He may have spent the better part of the day leading military campaigns, yet he did not always harbour territorial designs and is said to have waged a war on his own governor for a horse. A beautiful Persian horse, but still a horse.

The Lahore Durbar, in Ranjit Singh’s time, constituted what is now Pakistan (minus Sindh and Balochistan). He is perhaps best known for putting the Sikh army on the map and, of course, his love for empire building. The Last Sunset... studies the rapid deterioration of the empire forged by a ruler who combined “cunning, treachery, ruthlessness with diplomacy and military might” to carve out a glorious kingdom, a formidable army and a reputation to match. In the brief but dramatic portion devoted to his life, the writer manages to capture the grandeur of his court (decadent lifestyle and all) and the fickle nature of alliances from multiple perspectives.

It would take just 10 short years for this Durbar to fall apart. The principal portion of the book focuses on major military campaigns between the Sikh and British troops in the post-Ranjit era, as the empire he had so painstakingly built with the help of the much admired Sikh Khalsa Army, raised on European lines, began to fray around the edges. Soon the soldiers, considered to be “the finest material in the world for forming an army” by W G Osborne, military secretary to the governor general of India, would be pitted against the British (1845-46 and1848-49), the court was to become the epicentre of political intrigues (led by a royal) and Punjab would finally be annexed to the British territory.

Amarinder Singh is from the royal family of Patiala. He was ADC to GOC-in-C, Western Command,in the 1965 war between Pakistan and India and later served as a member of the Parliamentary Defence Committee. His previous books include Lest we Forget: The History of Indian Army from 1947-65 and A Ridge Too Far: War in the Kargil Heights 1999. This Maharaja-turned-soldier-turned-politician records the glorious beginning and not so glorious ending of Ranjit’s Lahore in this meticulously detailed account, cramming maps, order of battles with military strategies and tallying British accounts with what little is known of the Sikh side. He also examines Ranjit’s army that had become the de facto ruler of his state after his death and the conspiracy hatched from within to cut it down to size.

He exposes the cold-blooded role played by the regent — Her Highness Maharani Jinda Kaur (Queen Mother) — as she sent her soldiers into battle ostensibly to defend the kingdom. Faked intelligence was used (which works every time) to rile up the unsuspecting troops, who became convinced that the British Army was coming after them. It was a dangerous gamble but the Maharani hoped to come out as a winner. The Sikhs lose, she gets to stay on as regent; they win, she becomes even more powerful. According to the writer, this was a calculated move designed to clip the wings of a powerful army (a familiar complaint in this part of the world) and strengthen her tenuous hold in the bargain. He notes that though the Sikhs were decisively beaten in the four battles of the war, “but for the regent, her wazir, C-in-C and a mad British officer, Lord Gough’s defeat was near certain”. While the Maharani courted the British and connived against her state in the first war, the blame for the next major conflict is placed at the British doorstep. The author asserts that the Governor General of India Lord Dalhousie simply used the Multan revolt as a pretext to carry out his expansionist plans and intended to “do away” with the Lahore state long before the second Sikh war.

The story concludes with the annexation of Punjab in 1849 and the epilogue continues the story of the exiled Maharaja Duleep Singh and his mother, the resourceful Maharani. The Last Sunset... is the tragic saga of a Durbar in free fall, starting from the first Anglo-Sikh war, where Lahore escaped annexation by the British but came under their supervision, to the second, where the British found themselves in the untenable position of both governing and attacking the Durbar.


Roli Books; Pp 344; Rs 1,395

Available at Liberty Books


Published in Daily Times - Site Edition Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs

Published in Daily Times / Aug 07, 2010

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Muhammad Yunus with Karl Weber

In the early 1970s when an academician from a third world country came across the victims of a moneylender, he did what good Samaritans usually do in such circumstances: he took charge, paid off their small loan, securing a temporary release. Then the academician did something many probably would not have done. He decided to put the affected community members (residing in rural Bangladesh) in charge and sought a permanent end to their financial woes. Since the only government-sanctioned weapon needed to combat this menace (banks) flatly refused to help (and the good Samaritan was neither a millionaire nor a magician), he decided to forge one on his own.

That a paltry sum of $ 27 could make such a difference in 42 lives caught in the moneylenders’ net led to the development of an intriguing concept, one that advocated that extending a financial lifeline to those deemed to be non-creditworthy makes good business sense. So, under the direction of academician-turned-humanitarian Muhammad Yunus, the first Grameen Bank was set up.

A financial institution that introduced the concept of micro-credit, lending tiny sums of collateral-free loans to destitute families (mostly women), does more than simply bail them out of trouble. This was a bank for the poor and owned by the poor, giving them a real shot at life and setting them up with economic opportunities in the bargain, besides of course putting the exploitive members of society out of business.

Muhammad Yunus’s work was not finished; other problems beckoned him and he made it his life’s mission to change the foundations of a useless system, one social business at a time. Muhammad Yunus, now a veteran, has a new vision and in “Building Social Business.....”, he looks back at past achievements and ahead at future possibilities. But first he sets out to explain his precious concept to the mystified public, who are hearing the term for the first time.

A social business model is devised with a twist; it does not recognise the traditional lines set by conventional businesses, and takes profit out of the company equation. Except for the profit part, a social business is just like any other business and modelled on the same principles. But, as Muhammad Yunus will tell you, it is very different from other charitable institutions.

He goes to great lengths to differentiate between charities, cooperatives (co-ops), NGOs, foundations or the corporate social responsibility side (CSR) of businesses and his pet projects. A social business is self-sustaining, the needy are the sole beneficiaries, and anyone can be a social businessman; starting small is encouraged, research is imperative, and “impatience” can be a virtue. Also, social benefit and profit are compartmentalised; the twain shall never mix and the poor take all.

One man has made a sustainable business model that quietly challenges the established ways of doing business. It already has a global seal of approval, having been emulated all over the world. He admits that his idea does not signal the end of profit maximising businesses, but widens the playing field, giving “new options to the consumers, employees and entrepreneurs and raising social awareness among the business community”. Where other systems have come close to crashing or, in the case of developing nations, failed on a spectacular scale, Yunus can put his string of successes on display for those shopping for new ideas.

After the successful field-testing of financial services, he branched out and partnered with other companies to launch projects like Grameen Danone (offering nutritious food products), Grameen Veolia Water (solving the arsenic laced water supply problem by providing clean drinking water), and Grameen Healthcare, while creating jobs in the process.

Social business has many admirers: Adidas, BASF, Intel, Otto GmbH are some of the major players involved with Grameen projects. But it has not always been smooth sailing for the banker to the poor. He includes the lessons learnt from his 40 years experience, and takes aspiring social business owners through the steps of not only building a successful business, but also rebuilding society in the process. He also leaves behind a nice little template for motivated individuals ready to take their first idea for a spin.

Yunus may be an astute (social) businessman, but he also has a savvy side. He is quick to point out that working for any social business does not mean lowering one’s standards, for they offer employees competitive salaries and benefits; it simply means not profiting from the poor. Social business owners normally step in where governments fear to tread. The global ambassador of the poor teaches humanity how to take their natural altruistic impulses forward properly. M Yunus has a Nobel Peace Prize 2006 (shared with Grameen Bank) to show for his efforts, and is already playing around with the building blocks of a new poverty-free world order.



Published under the title of : Business with a catch —

PublicAffairs; Pp 256; Rs 1,795

Monday, August 2, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: 'The New Anthem - The Subcontinent in its Own Words'

Reviewed for Liberty Books

The oft ravaged Subcontinent has been through a silent revolution. Deep below the churning waters, past the shifting sands, under the staggering weight of century’s old bias and primeval beliefs, resides a wellspring of concentrated energy.

The freshly inducted members from the South Asian literary hall of fame tapped this reservoir and have been pushing boundaries with their fiery prose for years. They have been hailed for their refreshing new voice and scintillating style. ‘The New Anthem – The Subcontinent In Its Own Words’ is a literary cocktail compiled by Bangladeshi author – Ahmede Hussain to showcase a galaxy of new-born stars.

22 writers, with a shared past have left a profound impression on South Asian literature. Their sentimental trek across time stops often to relay the exotic beauty of the land, stripping away layers of history to reveal its true character. These disparate sounds, striving to he heard above the usual din bring the Subcontinent to life.

One is accosted by the regions turbulent history over and over again. This particular memory lane is full of sobering thoughts. Both ‘Cyclone’ by Khademul Islam and ‘The Fragrance of Cuticura’ by Amitava Kumar bring back that feeling of oppressiveness. ‘The Barber Lover’, and ‘Laila and Leela’ play with the spiritual while Carl Bloom takes readers down ‘The Alley’ forcing them to confront the ugly side of life in his adopted home.

Wistful voices from the Diaspora also join in the chorus. They explore a range of emotions, breaking away from tradition and cheerfully launching into the realm of political incorrectness. Liberalism creeps in stealthily in ‘The Straight Path’ by Bengali-American writer Abeer Hoque; the price of rebellion is paid in Rachael Khan’s grim tale -‘Foreign Exchange.

The rest of the composition is equally compelling – if a little bewildering. Altaf Tyrewala can get rid of unwanted babies but not the voices in his head while Razia fences unsuccessfully with the new cook in Kamila Shamsie’s ‘Surface of Glass’.

These samples demonstrate the collective wealth of the region introducing us to writers who are about to embark on their first major literary expedition alongside those who have already arrived.

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh still have some bitterness leftover. Ahmede Hussain’s new book is unconcerned with the (excruciatingly) slow pace of recovery and finds something to celebrate from each nation. Their spirited new anthem is in keeping with the changing reality.

Book: The New Anthem: The Subcontinent in its Own Words
Author: Ahmede Hussain
ISBN:9380032455
ISBN-13:9789380032450, 978-9380032450
PAGES: 336
Price: Rs: Rs. 750

Available at Liberty Books

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