The Kaafir’s Love by Abhisar Sharma

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The Kaafir’s Love by Abhisar Sharma

Published by: Rupa Publications

Fiction: Fiction; 257p

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book summary:

Two dramatic incidents shake up the tenuous peace in an Old Delhi neighbourhood – the suicide by a terrorist from one of the towers of Jama Masjid, and an influential trader shot at around the same spot. As simmer comes to boil, age-old antagonisms surface and sharp lines are drawn. Amidst these troubled times, Sameer, a Hindu boy living in the neighbourhood at Chandni Chowk falls in love with a Muslim girl, Inara. Unaware of the consequences of his love that is considered forbidden Sameer is dragged down the rabbit hole of intolerance, and as he sinks, he discovers a shocking truth – a truth that shall change many lives forever. Restless and on the edge, The Kaafir’s Love is a volatile and intense love story set against our troubled and provocative times.

*My Review:

Thank you Rupa Publications for the review copy!

The Kaafir’s Love by Abhisar Sharma a well-known journalist is an all out intense love story where the two main protagonists Sameer and Inara, both in their early 20s go through the rites of attraction and then falls in love despite knowing that there will be a heavy price to pay. The story of young people falling in love across religions and caste lines and the fall out are all too familiar in India with various reel and real life stories driving home the tragic consequences. So, when Sameer a Hindu boy who lives in Old Delhi has a best friend in Nasir, there are no objections but when it comes to falling in love with Inara, even Nasir has to warn Sameer that there will be consequences.

Inara and Sameer’s love story has a beautiful arc: stolen glances, attraction, denial, discovering that each other’s emotions are deep and then the ultimate point of no return: running away from the recriminations that will follow. It is the back drop of Sameer and Inara’s love story that add to the larger story for Inara’s father is an influential trader who will use any means possible to get his way in business and in personal space, not caring about how things can escalate. And escalate it does: When Inara’s father sends goons to beat up Sameer, things come to a head and then politicians try to use the situation for capturing vote banks.

 It is only Zulfiqar Khan, the Imam of the Jama Masjid mosque who has the power and the sanity to soothe battle lines in the Old Delhi neighbourhood while keeping one step ahead of warring parties and politicians lying in wait for things to go out of hand and then step in for political gains. The Imam represents the most mature of the lot of characters in the book in the manner of his actions being for the larger good but when he steps in to contain the damage following Sameer and Inara’s elopement, there are other consequences at play.

Abhisar Sharma’s writing is to the point but the element of introducing the incident of a Muslim man who takes shelter in the Jama Masjid after killing an Israeli woman diplomat does not do anything for the plot except put in the narrative the position and importance of Imam Zulfiqar Khan. There is no further fall out of such a high profile event and that takes out a bit of credibility from it all. I felt that another situation could have worked as well to establish the political position of Imam Zulfiqar Khan and his brash 26 yr old son Imran Khan who is set to step into his father’s shoes subsequently.

Two characters stand out for me: Imran Khan who is portrayed as someone volatile and fast to lose his head and Sameer’s mother Prabha who flits in and flits out as a side character for most of the narrative till the penultimate moment where she tells Sameer about his parentage. Imran’s character arc is understated throughout the book: he is hot headed, he questions his father’s action, he confronts authorities but he also accepts his father’s decisions and when Sameer ends up doing something unforgivable, he lets it go to keep peace.

 I would recommend The Kaafir’s Love by Abhisar Sharma to romance readers who love a bit of drama. This one will definitely make for a good Bollywood film adaptation.

Shiva’s Drum by Chandrasekhar Kambar

 

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Shiva’s Drum by Chandrasekhar Kambar

(Translated by Krishna Manavalli)

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Fiction: Fiction, Indian Literature; 267p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

In Shivapura, the villagers worship their gods and nature, and cultivate the crops that their forebears have been growing since time immemorial. Sweet water flows in the Chalimele river, the trees bear delicious fruit, and the cattle and other animals are part of the household.

But Baramegowda, the landowner and headman, replaces traditional crops with sugarcane, a cash crop, and encourages the excessive use of chemical pesticides, amassing great wealth. He also enlists the aid of a foreign institution to build a private English-medium school and college on land where the village pond, Mallimadu, is. And life in Shivapura changes inexplicably–its waters turn to poison and its fruits and vegetables become tasteless. Deformed births among cattle and humans are reported and farmers, unable to repay their loans, commit suicide. When Chambasa, Baramegowda’s estranged nephew, and Namahshivaya, the village priest, discover that the foreign institution has been dumping chemical waste into Mallimadu, they inform Baramegowda, and faced with the destruction his greed has wrought, he appeals to them to save the village. But events take a different course after Chambasa’s wife is raped by men connected to the institution, and he is arrested for killing the rapists. And it will be years before Shivapura can heal itself.

In his new novel, Jnanpith-award winner Chandrasekhar Kambar weaves a mesmerizing tapestry of myth, history and legend to reveal the plight of farmers in the age of industry and capital. An epic narrative by one of the biggest names in Kannada literature, originally published in Kannada as Shivana Dangura, Shiva’s Drum is a memorable fable of our times.

My Review:

Shiva’s Drum by Chandrasekar Kambar looks like it is only a story of a village called Shivapura and its people. But starting with the first two lines: ‘Earlier, Shivapura didn’t have history. It only had mythology’, the reader is made aware of the various layers that make up the narrative and allegories woven by the author. The description of nature’s creation that makes up Shivapura: its streams and caves with their own names takes us to a time when man lived closer to nature, revering and protecting it as sacred.

When first we encounter Shivapura, it is through its landmarks and their back stories and soon we find the out village where the lower caste people live and an almost brief aside that says ‘It’s known as the known as the worst place in the village. Usually, no officers or policemen enter this place’ which serves to break the rural idyll that readers might have expected. The feudal set up, the caste politics, the plight of women: these are all themes that rear their heads through the characters and their life stories. The battle over traditional ways of life in conflict with modernity comes to life in the way Baramegowda, the landowner and headman who brings in a foreign agency in the belief that they will build a private English medium school and college on the land of the village pond. Baramegowda besides being Lord and master of all he surveys in the village is also interested in most women of the village except his wife but interestingly, it is his son in law who is set as the villain of the piece for the former still wishes to work for the good of the people of Shivapura while the later thinks only of himself and his desires.

There is a small thread of a love story that blurs caste lines in the village but the woman ends up as a victim in the larger scheme of things. This bit and the absence of women characters as driving the plot instead of remaining as victims of the actions of men in Shiva’s Drum are the only wrinkles in this otherwise beautiful book. After all the violence and the brutality brought upon by greed and desires settle down over time, the narrative gives hope with a subtle commentary on inclusivity and harmony that comes close to a satisfying happy ending. I would definitely recommend this book for serious readers of Indian literature for its deft presentation of a village that tells readers about more than the lives of its people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

 

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Published by: Vintage Classics

Fiction: Historical Fiction; 223p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

Nine year old Bruno has a lot of things on his mind. Who is the ‘fury’? Why did he make them leave their nice home in Berlin to go to ‘Out-With’? And who are all the sad people in striped pyjamas on the other side of the fence? The grown ups won’t explain so Bruno decides there is only one things for it – he will have to explore this place alone. What he discovers is a new friend. A boy with the same birthday. A boy wearing striped pyjamas. But why can’t they ever play together?

My Review:

‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne somehow reminded me of the Italian film ‘Life is Beautiful’ in which a Jewish father protects his son from the horrors of living in a Nazi concentration camp through make believe and imagination.

‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ follows 9 year old Bruno who is unhappy about leaving Berlin and his three friends to move to a place where his father has been given a responsibility by the ‘fury’. Once he reaches ‘Out-With’, he immediately dislikes the house and the cold atmosphere around him. His confusion rises when Pavel, a thin unhappy looking man who he thinks is a waiter tells him that he had been a doctor till he was brought to ‘Out-With’ and his memories of his grandmother’s caution against the ‘fury’. All Bruno knows is that he loves the huge house that his family lives in Berlin; his father is an important man in a ‘fantastic uniform’ and that he cannot really understand his elder sister Gretel.

Once he reaches ‘Out-With’, he immediately dislikes the house and the cold atmosphere around him. Certain events make Bruno feel that there is more happening around him that he is not able to understand totally: he keeps asking the adults around him but nobody really tells him. His confusion rises when Pavel, a thin unhappy looking man who he thinks is a waiter tells him that he had been a doctor till he was brought to ‘Out-With’. Bruno sees that there are two sets of people at ‘Out-With’: the ones in uniforms and who have authority and many others in a certain uniform of stripped pyjamas and who look afraid of the other men in uniform. After reconciling to ‘Out-With’ being his home for a longer time, Bruno explores the area that has been fenced off and runs into Shmuel with whom he feels a connect, one that will lead to a shocking fate for both of them.

I read and follow a lot of fiction and non fiction when it comes to the Holocaust but believe me, John Boyne’s The Boy in Stripped Pyjamas gave me a different essence in the way it is written through an innocent and unaware 9 yr old. It is heartbreaking and tragic but does not leave you in a stupor of grief and/or anger. The conflicts that Bruno senses around him and in the stands that adults take around him are interesting and give much room for thought. There is no ‘us’ against ‘them’ marked out in the narrative even as history bears testimony, for children are oblivious to the politics of hatred around them and unaware. I would recommend this book for readers of historical fiction but would caution for some time to recover once you realize just the enormity of the situation that Bruno is living with. Recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of us in our own lives by Manjushree Thapa

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All of us in our own lives by Manjushree Thapa

Published by: Aleph Book Company

Fiction: Fiction; 213p

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book summary:

All of Us in Our Own Lives is the story of an encounter between strangers who shape each others’ lives in fateful ways. Ava Berriden, a Canadian lawyer, quits her corporate law firm in Toronto, leaves her passionless marriage and moves to Nepal, from where she was adopted as a baby. In Kathmandu, she struggles to launch a new career in international aid and to forge a connection with the country of her birth. Ava’s work brings her into contact with Indira Sharma, a leading gender expert in Kathmandu. It also takes her to a small village where bright young Sapana Karki dreams of progress for herself, her community and her country. Sapana’s world-weary half-brother Gyanu, who works in Dubai, is back to settle his sister’s future after their father’s death.

Each person is on a journey of his or her own. These journeys intersect with a chance meeting between Ava and Gyanu. In the aftermath, her decisions alter the lives of the others. The novel delves into the cynical, monied world of international aid, and reflects on recent events in Nepal, including the devastating earthquake of 2015 and the subsequent drafting of a new constitution. It is ultimately a story about human interconnectedness and the unexpected ways in which strangers come to relate to one another.”

*My Review:

*Thank you Aleph Book Company for this review copy!

Manjushree Thapa’s ‘All of us in our own lives’ in its entirety is a book that will take readers into the socio-economic and cultural ethos of the lives of the common men and women in Nepal, a small country that has seen much. We get to follow the lives of four main protagonists and through them, how lives intersect and tell a larger story: Ava Berriden who quits her unsatisfying job in Toronto (and who has been adopted from an orphanage in Kathmandu); Indira Sharma who works in the NGO sector on gender issues; Sapana Karki, a young girl with huge dreams and little at hand and Gyanu, Sapana’s half brother who works in a hotel in Dubai far removed from his birthplace and who must now head back for the last rites of his father.

All four main protagonists serve as reflections of the turmoil and churn in Nepal which has yet to have a stable economy and governance and home to various aid initiatives that while improving the lives of people they set to work for but only marginally, thanks to corruption even within the aid sector while battling the impact of political and armed conflict over the years. There are other characters who fill in the narrative: Sapana’s friend Chandra whose elder sister Surya along with a few other girls has been taken to India by an agent to work as a maid and whose fate is largely unknown till the closing chapters; Durga who lives with Indira as her house maid and caught in a surly existence, the reason for which unfolds and Vishwa Bista, a programme staff at the aid agency that Ava works at who has his agenda while selecting partner agencies on the ground.

Manjushree Thapa places her women characters in thought provoking backdrops: Ava, who has come back to Nepal to work in the aid sector in a position where she can make a difference and who tells herself that she doesn’t belong; Indira, an expert in her field in the aid sector who must not only flight off other women vying to be in the field but who must also fight off men who take her and her work for granted (including her husband who is often loud and drunk but one who keeps to himself and hence makes only cursory appearances in the narrative) and keep toeing the line that she cannot cross; Sapana whose simple life revolves around wanting her brother to come back and live with her and who when given an opportunity to stand on her own impresses with her belief that women can achieve things together but loses her moorings somewhat when her close friend Chandra decides to follow her sister and migrate to India.

I thoroughly loved the narrative of Manjushree Thapa’s ‘All of us in our own lives’ but must put in a slight warning that readers might find the technical bits and pieces of aid work in terms of project proposals and inputs and assessments might be a somewhat of a bother but believe me, once those parts are through, the larger story takes life and how! Recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

The Diamonds Are for All (Jeet Singh #11) by Surender Mohan Pathak

 

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The Diamonds Are for All (Jeet Singh #11) by Surender Mohan Pathak

Published by: Harper Collins India

Fiction: Fiction; 400p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Taxi driver Jeet Singh is cruising for fare when a man being tailed by a bunch of goons blocks his way. Entrusting him with a briefcase full of secret, classified government documents to be delivered in lieu of a huge sum to a girl in Jogeshwari, he jumps off the moving taxi. His dead body is found by the railway track in a Mumbai suburb the next morning, while Jeet Singh finds he has nobody to give the briefcase to; the girl died mysteriously the previous night. He opens the briefcase, and a free-for-all for diamonds worth millions is set into motion.

From the badshah of crime writing comes another blockbuster of a novel, Diamonds are for All.

My Review:

For the uninitiated, Surender Mohan Pathak is the most widely read and best selling crime writer in Hindi who began his writing career in the early 60’s by translating the works of Ian Fleming and James Hadley Chase. His first published works were published in Hindi crime magazines and till date, the author has close to 300 published works that enjoy a cult status among Hindi noir readers. There are legions of fans of Surender Mohan Pathak’s writings and his earlier works are said to be sold at considerably hiked rates even now. Thanks to some journalistic writings on the author and how his crime capers have ‘inspired’ real life crimes: the infamous Delhi tandoor murder in 1995 being one, Surender Mohan Pathak and his writings have intrigued me. When I found out that a few of his works have been translated to English, I had to get them for myself and boy, does the author pack a punch?! Thanks to Harper Collins India, I could finally read Surender Mohan Pathak and discover for myself how he created a spell for thousands of readers.

Surender Mohan Pathak’s ‘Diamonds are for All’ is translated by the author from Heera Pheri and takes place within the span of a week in which a haul of diamonds worth crores is brought for a don and gangster, smuggler and racketeer rolled into one through a half official, half illegal channel: only a fraction of the haul is registered with the Customs with a hefty bribe being paid off. The diamonds are being brought in the backdrop of one major gangster at odds with another one and other players at a loss after their gang leaders have been arrested or finished off. When they are being brought in, there are plans within plans and various actors with different agendas who want the diamonds for themselves.

The turn of events in ‘Diamonds are for All’ are fast paced and all that the reader can do is to turn the pages and keep reading. There are personal agendas that clash with small time players getting ambitious and planning betrayals and then there are other players who are keeping watch to grab the diamonds. Things go to a head and taxi driver Jeet Singh is caught in the scheme of things. As events unfold at break neck speed, one is caught in the tension of it all but also realize that there are layers into Jeet Singh whose middle name could well be resourcefulness. When Jeet Singh becomes the hunted, the manner that he turns to his friends and how they help him be one step ahead of his pursuers is believable. The talk of his back-story is pretty interesting and I would love to read more of Jeet Singh though I am not too sure whether all the books featuring him have been translated into English.

I would definitely recommend this book and any other of the pulp fiction that Surender Mohan Pathak has written to readers who want to read Indian noir for the sheer local flavor that the author brings to his characters and the situations they find themselves in.

 

 

The Cast by Danielle Steel

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The Cast by Danielle Steel

Published by: Pan Macmillan

Fiction: Fiction; 267p

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book summary:

Kait Whittier has built her magazine column into a hugely respected read followed by fans across the country. She loves her work and adores her grown children, treasuring the time they spend together. But after two marriages, she prefers to avoid the complications and uncertainties of a new love.

Then, after a chance meeting with Zack Winter, a television producer visiting Manhattan from Los Angeles, everything changes. Inspired by the true story of her own indomitable grandmother, Kait creates the storyline for a TV series. And when she shares her work with Zack, he is impressed and decides to make this his next big-budget project.

Within weeks, Kait is plunged into a colorful star studded world of actors and industry pros – from the reclusive grande dame to L.A.’s hottest bad-boy actor – who will bring her vision to life. As secrets are shared, friendships deepen. But in the midst of this charmed year, Kait is suddenly forced to confront her greatest challenge as a mother. Unexpectedly, this unforgettable cast becomes more important to her than she could ever have imagined.

*My Review:

*Heads up to Pan Macmillan India for the review copy!

It was a pleasant surprise to receive Danielle Steel’s The Cast! It brought memories of reading the author during my later school days and how her women characters rise to the situation when faced with adversity and crisis. Over the years, I had veered away from reading Danielle Steel and I must say here that I can only admire her for continuing to write in all this years, all bestsellers despite the criticism of her formula of characters with overcoming odds in life etc.

To come to the book though, The Cast by Danielle Steel follows Kait Whittier who in her early 50s lives alone and has a popular magazine column that looks at relationship advise. Kait loves her job and looks back at her life in which, her grand mother has played a huge role in instilling her the essence of rising up to the occasion. Her only wrinkle in life is that her three children live busy lives in different worlds and different cities. Attending a Christmas party right at the last minute, Kait meets Zack Winter, a television producer with whom she opens up about her grandmother. Zack exhorts Kait to try her hand at writing the outlines for a TV show and before she or the reader knows it (for it happens FAST!), Kait’s outline for a TV show is approved. Getting the cast for the TV show, the various short back-stories of the cast members and their relationship to one another forms the backbone of the book.

I particularly loved the back stories of the actors who make up the cast of Kait’s TV show The Wilder Women, based on three generations of women in the backdrop of the Second World War who shake up the aviation industry. The seed of Kait’s TV show ‘The Wilder Women’ is the Women Airforce Semi Pilot Program (WASP) during which, thousands of commercial women pilots enrolled to fly war supplies in the midst of intense war situations. This backdrop complemented by the inspiration of Kait’s grandmother’s never give up spirit makes up for the story of The Wilder Women and by default, Danielle Steel’s The Cast has two stories in one book!

The Cast is an enjoyable read and moves really fast with situations and incidents that take the story further: if at one moment the reader is taken through Kait’s life and family, the next time the reader is acquainted with the cast of Kait’s TV show and the synergy around its shoot and then in the next moment, it is about the fate of Kait’s children (one in particular). I definitely wanted more of the WASP element in the book through the story of The Wilder Women. It is a breezy summer book that will leave readers turning its pages though there will be the naysayers who will scoff at ‘yet another Danielle Steel’. I will recommend this book for readers who want something light and feel good. Read it for the women characters, their grace and the way they move on with life. For Danielle Steel fans of course, you don’t need me to prod you to picking this up!

 

 

 

 

The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maheer

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The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maheer

Published by: Aleph Book Company

Fiction: Non fiction; 235p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Bold’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Siren’ were just some of the (kinder) words used to describe Qandeel Baloch. She embraced these labels and played the coquette, yet dished out biting critiques of some of Pakistan’s most holy cows. Pakistanis snickered at her fake American accent, but marvelled at her gumption. She was the stuff of a hundred memes and Pakistan’s first celebrity-by-social media.

Qandeel first captured the nation’s attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst. But it was in February 2016, when she uploaded a Facebook video mocking a presidential ‘warning’ not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, that she went ‘viral’. In the video, which racked up nearly a million views, she lies in bed, in a low-cut red dress, and says in broken English, ‘They can stop to people go out…but they can’t stop to people love.’ The video shows us everything that Pakistanis loved—and loved to hate—about Qandeel, ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’. Five months later, she would be dead. In July 2016, Qandeel’s brother would strangle her in their family home, in what was described as an ‘honour killing’—a punishment for the ‘shame’ her online behaviour had brought to the family.

Scores of young women and men are killed in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. Many cases are never reported, and of the ones that are, murderers are often ‘forgiven’ by the surviving family members and do not face charges. However, just six days after Qandeel’s death, the Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill was fast-tracked in parliament, and in October 2016, the loophole allowing families to pardon perpetrators of ‘honour killings’ was closed. What spurred the change? Was it the murder of Qandeel Baloch? And how did she come to represent the clash between rigid conservatism and a secular, liberal vision for Pakistan? Through dozens of interviews—with aspiring models, managers, university students, activists, lawyers, police officers and journalists, among them—Sanam Maher gives us a portrait of a woman and a nation.

*My Review:

*Thank you Aleph for this review copy!

Karachi based journalist Sanam Maher’s ‘The Sensational Life &Death of Qandeel Baloch’ is more than just a biography of an Internet sensation who was killed by her own brother, for though the book brings to us the bits and pieces about the many facets of Qandeel Baloch, it is also about the larger story of the socio cultural moorings in Pakistan and how ‘going viral’ spins off a complex world. In her author’s note, Sanam Maher says, “It has not been easy to write a story that everyone thinks they already know. If, by the end of the book, you still have questions, and feel doubtful about anyone trying to sell you the real story of Qandeel Baloch, then this work has served its purpose.” By the time I finished reading the book, these words from the author resonated with me.

Sanam Maher does gives us an account of the life of Qandeel Baloch: her childhood, her abusive and claustrophobic marriage, her stint in a women’s shelter, giving away her small son, her time as a bus hostess etc and then her forays into the internet and reality show (s) and one can see all too clearly that there are gaps in the way Qandeel’s life shaped up from her rural life to bold internet sensation. What was it that made Qandeel bare it all (mostly and literally) while keeping her real personality, her thoughts, what she wanted to achieve in the realms of hear say and conjecture?

We will never know and the author does not try to feed us an answer but by positioning Qandeel’s virtual life with what we know of her actual life (or what comes close) and then putting in other narratives of other young women caught in cases of cyber bullying and stalking, we get to have a more nuanced understanding of just how vulnerable Qandeel was to being killed by just about anyone, if not her brother. I found it telling that even as reporters and talk show hosts lapped up every bit of statement she made (mostly provocative) and gleefully looked at the ‘views’ and ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ while they tried to make sense of what she was saying or passing judgments or just laughing at her, no one ever took it seriously when she said she would get killed.

What worked for me with this book was how Sanam Maher takes us through the lives of other people in Pakistan: the many women some of whom want to be the next Qandeel Baloch and some who are trying to just stay alive and safe. Maher’s profile of internationally acclaimed lawyer and digital rights activist Nighat Dad and her work for women who face cyber bullying and other forms of blackmail added more context to the lives and times of young women in Pakistan today even as Nighat’s own life story reveals she survived an abusive husband and an overbearing brother.

I would strongly recommend this book to readers looking at books on social norms and practices in the sub continent, social media narratives and as a critical reading of the complex times we live in where patriarchy and cultural taboos fights with individualism and self assertion.