Jallianwala Bagh: Literary Responses in Prose & Poetry Edited by Rakhshanda Jalil


Jallianwala Bagh: Literary Responses in Prose & Poetry Edited by Rakhshanda Jalil

Published by: Niyogi Books

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the butchering of unarmed innocents, is a historic event that haunts the human mind even after the lapse of a century. 1650 rounds fired in a matter of ten minutes, the blocking of exits, preventing help reaching the injured are all acts of unmitigated bestiality.

Through a selection of prose and poetry – the direct outcome of this horrific event and an introduction that traces the history of events leading to the massacre – Rakhshanda Jalil, a literary historian and translator from Urdu and Hindi, attempts to open a window into the world of possibilities that literature offers to reflect, interpret and analyse events of momentous historical import. The selection offers ways of ‘seeing’ history, of exploring how an incident that stirred the conscience of millions, found its way through pen and paper to reach the nooks and crannies of popular imagination filtered through the mind of the creative writer.

The acknowledged doyens of Indian literature featured in this volume include Saadat Hasan Manto, Mulk Raj Anand, Krishan Chander, Abdullah Hussein, Bhisham Sahni, Ghulam Abbas, Subadhra Kumari Chauhan, Sarojini Naidu, Sohan Singh Misha, Muhammad Iqbal, Josh Malihabadi, Nanak Singh, to name a few. A collection that can pave the way for further research.

About the author:

Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, critic and literary historian. Her published work comprises edited anthologies, among them a selection of Pakistani women writers entitled, Neither Night Nor Day; and a collection of esssays on Delhi, Invisible City: she is co-author of Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia and Journey to a Holy Land: A Pilgrim s Diary. She is also a well-known translator,

My Review*

 Thank you for Niyogi Books for this copy. All opinions are my own.

 The Jallianwala Bagh massacre that took place on 13 April 1919 is a defining moment in India’s history. Apart from the number of lives lost and grievous lost, this act of firing on unarmed civilians is cited as the trigger for many moderate Indians who did not take a stand to abandon their loyalty to the British and become nationalists who were distrustful of the British.

This book by Rakhshanda Jalil is brilliantly put together bringing a collection of how the Jallianwala Bagh massacre is reflected in literature in the form of prose and poetry. In her foreword, the author says ‘Politics and history are said to be interwoven but not commensurate. The same can be said for politics and literature,’ setting the tone for the stories that are included in the collection. Comprising of two parts: fiction and poetry, the sum total of this book is a deeply poignant capture of the moods and sentiments as inspired by the real life event. There are short stories and excerpted chapters from novels besides a play. Some of the best names of Indian literature make it to this collection – Saadat Hasan Manto, Mulk Raj Anand, Krishan Chander, Bhisham Sahni, Ghulam Abbas, Subadhra Kumari Chauhan, Sarojini Naidu and Muhammad Iqbal to name a few.

The stories and the poetry in this collection will take you to the narrow lanes leading to Jallianwala Bagh, the nationalist stirrings amongst the people of Punjab and other parts of the country, the events that led to the massacre and the trauma of loss and anger over the incident. Recommended.


A Woman of War by Mandy Robotham


A Woman of War by Mandy Robotham

Published by: Avon Books UK

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book summary:

Germany, 1944. A prisoner in the camps, midwife Anke Hoff is doing what she can to keep her pregnant campmates and their newborns alive.

But when Anke’s work is noticed, she is chosen for a task far more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. High in the Bavarian hills, Eva Braun is pregnant, and Anke is assigned as her caregiver.

Torn between her duty as a caregiver and her hatred for the regime she’s now a part of, Anke is quickly swept into a life unlike anything she’s ever known – and she discovers that many of those at the Berghof are just as trapped as she is. Soon, she’s falling for a man who will make her world more complicated still. Before long, the couple is faced with an impossible choice – for which the consequences could be deadly. Can their forbidden love survive the horrors of war – and, more importantly, will they?

Anke is faced with an impossible choice. Does she serve the Reich she loathes and keep the baby alive? Or does she sacrifice an innocent child for the good of a broken world?

About the author:

Mandy Robotham is a practicing midwife who writes about birth, death, love and everything else in between. She has been a journalist earlier. This is her first novel.

My Review*

 Thank you for NetGalley and Avon Books UK for this copy. All opinions are my own.

 Anke Hoff , a young midwife in the maternity section of a Berlin hospital is true to her duty of caring for the women and infants in her care. Her principles and beliefs are in contrast with the Nazi directive in 1939 that all maternity staff report cases of babies born with a disability or with a deformity. The Nazi regime’s obsession with the perfect Aryan race is only one aspect that Anke and her family are against in Hitler’s regime.

This historical fiction uses the backdrop of the Nazi regime through Anke’s experiences and past memory while focusing on the period between 1939 till 1945. The premise of the book is placed on an interesting and powerful point of conflict: Anke’s nurturing care for infants regardless of their race and physical appearances and her detest for all things Nazi. This conflict is heightened when Anke is asked to be the main pre and post natal caregiver for Eva Braun, the long time partner of Hitler and his legally wedded wife for a day.

The setting is engaging and has its moments of moral dilemmas juxtaposed in the historical setting. The description of inmates in the Nazi camps are harrowing, more so, the situation of pregnant women and new mothers.

The humane look at Nazi officials and other people bring in an added sensitivity but the flashbacks to Anke’s earlier experiences even as her current predicaments in Eva Braun’s household is somewhat distracting as readers will want to go with the current story line.

The larger narrative of the child that Anke is set to deliver and what it signifies in the German Reich, how Eva Braun looks at it, Anke’s involvement with a Nazi official and what happens to the child is worth a read. I would recommend this for historical fiction lovers and those who love to dwell on the ‘what ifs’ of global history.



Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure by Shubha Mudgal


Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure by Shubha Mudgal

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Fiction, 205 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

After thousands of hours of training and practice, the gods of music smile upon the deserving few. Genius shines; melody and goodness reign supreme; and all is right with the world. Or is it?

What happens, for instance, when a cunning PR brain brings together two star musicians from India and Pakistan in a concert for peace? Or when a Hindustani vocalist, long denied a foreign tour, flies from Pune to Philadelphia? Or when a small-town music teacher and a big-city businessman team up to plan a hunt for India’s best new classical talent—and make a few crores in the process?

How does it all end when a harmonium player desirous of a Padma Shri award comes to a powerful ustad for a recommendation? Or when a Bollywood director calls a classical singer, offering to make her a sensation, like the mysterious Miss Sargam whom no one hears anymore but everyone remembers? And is it really a good idea for an old-world recording company to reinvent itself for the twenty-first century, or a devotee of a pious godwoman to compose songs for Hollywood?

In this, her debut work of fiction, one of India’s finest and most original musicians has produced a sparkling collection—utterly distinctive, hugely entertaining and mercilessly funny.

About the author:

Shubha Mudgal is a Hindustani classical singer. She has received several awards and accolades for her artistic accomplishments, including the Padma Shri. Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure is her debut book.

My Review*

*Thank you Speaking Tiger for this copy. All opinions are my own.

What a debut! Shubha Mudgal is someone who has brought pop music and Indian classical music together and in this book of stories set in and around the music world, she draws readers through an engaging narrative and a sparkling wit. There are seven stories in this collection set in the world of music though there is no story with the tittle name ‘Looking for Miss Sargam’. Yet, Miss Sargam (tune) is talked about in passing in four of the stories and her name is taken with awe and much interest.

Each story will take reader into a believable build of setting, characters and plot. The stories, the characters and the settings : the dilemmas they find themselves in regarding the world of music they dwell in are distinctly familiar yet shine with a distinct flavor and tune.

The first story ‘Aman Bol’ a music gala stitched together by a major media company is about two major music maestros from India and Pakistan being brought together. This story sets the tone with its wicked humour that shines through in the conversation flow between the music artistes and the event manager over payment, billing and the subsequent ego play between the said artistes. Even as the narrative keeps one on tenterhooks of which artiste would trump over the other, it is a totally unexpected tussle that becomes the highlight of the story.

The stories that look at the business intricacies of the operation of the music industry are a mix of stories highlighting exploitation, cheating, copyright issues, organizing music reality shows and the intricacies that go behind the scenes of accomplished but not so known names in the classical music genre when they try to go on small scale music tours abroad. My favourite of them all has to be ‘The Man Who Made Stars’ about a talented singer and music composer who has not got the ‘big ticket’ to fame and who is approached for a big film. His attempt to get credit for his musical creation, a hugely successful music piece becomes cause for major heart burn but becomes the reason for a near escape from certain unwanted circumstances. This story blends the reality about the music industry and the socio political pitfalls that surround artistes today.

‘A Farewell to Music’ is another story that struck me with the way it follows a family that invests and nourishes the musical talent of their child but wills him to follow the MBA route for a ‘settled life’. The son gets placed in a music company where he gets a vantage view of the business side of the music industry where marketing is more important than the music itself.

I would recommend this book: you would be missing out on a debut author who will take you on a delightful journey in case you do not read this one!




Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramaniam


Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramaniam

Published by: Young Zubaan

Fiction, 286 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Twelve-year-old Sarojini’s best friend, Amir, might not be her best friend any more. Ever since Amir moved out of the basti and started going to a posh private school, it seems like he and Sarojini have nothing in common. Then Sarojini finds out about the Right to Education, a law that might help her get a free seat at Amir’s school – or, better yet, convince him to come back to a new and improved version of the government school they went to together.

As she struggles to keep her best friend, Sarojini gets help from some unexpected characters, including Deepti, a feisty classmate who lives at a construction site; Vimala Madam, a human rights lawyer who might also be an evil genius; and Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, a long-dead freedom fighter who becomes Sarojini’s secret pen pal. Told through letters to Mrs. Naidu, this is the story of how Sarojini learns to fight – for her friendship, her family, and her future.

Funny, sensitively-told and easy to relate to, this novel is perfect for readers who want to see a strong, flawed, compassionate brown girl at the centre of the stories they read.

About the author:

Mathangi Subramanian is an award winning writer, author, and educator. Her works have appeared in various media outlets. She has received various fellowships, including a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholarship, a Jacob Javits Fellowship, and an Office of Policy and Research Fellowship from Columbia Teachers College. In 2016, she won the South Asia Book Award for her novel Dear Mrs. Naidu.

My Review*

Thank you Zubaan for this copy. All opinions are my own.

Dear Mrs Naidu is a heartwarming book of sisterhood and standing for a cause, while also facing the doubts and little successes that comes one’s way when one gets into a good fight. 12 year old Sarojini writes to her namesake – Sarojini Naidu, freedom fighter and a pioneer among women public leaders as part of her school assignment. It is through these letters that readers are taken to her world and her concerns: the fact that her best friend is leaving their Government school for private school, that her school has only a redeeming feature – a teacher who tells her that she must let her heart grow. The assignment ends but Sarojini continues with her letters with her questions and observations on the latter’s life and it becomes clear that she is drawing inspiration and courage from the freedom fighter’s life and the obstacles she faced and overcame.

This is a brilliant book that looks like it is written only for young people but the way it touches upon strong friendships across religions and across the divides of ‘us’ and ‘them’ will appeal across age. We see Sarojini questioning social norms and constructs around her in the way her mother was a fighter before she married her father who left her. When her best friend Amir moves to a private school, Sarojini feels a sense of lose and a silent divide between them. And when she hears about the Right to Education, she thinks that she can get in to Amir’s school. But first, she must battle her own judgment about Vimala Madam, the lawyer at whose home her mother works. She also finds that Amir’s life has not become better just because he is in a private school. How Sarojini fights the obstacles in her path for a better school: how she first has to overcome her own fears and how she reaches out to people to join forces with her forms the core of this book.

The beauty of the book is how the ideas and courage of the two Sarojinis’ intersect together across time. The structure of the writing is such that not only does one get to look at the life and achievements of Sarojini Naidu through the wonder of a 12 year old but also look at the RTE with a humane analysis of what it is about and how it is still leaves out children from getting access to quality education. I would recommend this book totally and more so for young people and parents.






Reel India: Cinema off the Beaten Track by Namrata Joshi


Reel India: Cinema off the Beaten Track by Namrata Joshi

Published by: Hachette India

Non Fiction: Film Writing, 252 pages

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book summary:

Reel India: Cinema off the Beaten Track by Namrata Joshi

If there’s one experience that unites India, it is cinema. In Reel India, award-winning film critic Namrata Joshi journeys through the interiors of the country intimately chronicling little-known accounts about the nation’s incessant obsession with the movies.

In Lucknow, she encounters a Shah Rukh Khan fan who has embraced an alternate reality in which he lives and breathes the star. In Wai, she finds an entire economy fuelled by the film industry as the town transforms into a film set. An activist filmmaker in Odisha demonstrates how he teaches local tribal people the basics of his craft, empowering them to train the spotlight on issues threatening their habitat and livelihood. From the fever pitch of the ‘first day first show’ in makeshift halls to the rivalries of regional cinema, this is India’s immersion in the movies like it’s never been seen before.

Filled with real-life stories that are as fascinating as the revelations and insights they offer, Reel India raises the curtain on the starry-eyed dreams and big-screen passions that live on after the final ‘cut’ is announced. If there’s one experience that unites India, it is cinema. In ReelIndia, award-winning film critic Namrata Joshi journeys through the interiors of the country intimately chronicling little-known accounts about the nation’s obsession with movies

About the author:

Namrata Joshi is associate editor – cinema and film critic with The Hindu. A member of FIPRESCI, the international federation of film critics based in Munich, she has been a member of the FIPRESCI critics’ jury at multiple film festivals across the world, and has been on the selection committee for films at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, 2008 and 2012. A Charles Wallace Trust fellow and a Chevening scholar, she won India’s National Award for Best Film Critic in 2004.

My Review*

Thank you Hachette India for this copy. All opinions are my own.

If there is something that I love as much as reading books, it is watching good cinema regardless of language: shorts, documentaries, series and full length feature films. So it goes without saying that book on cinema is not something I am going to miss out on at all.

Reel India: Cinema off the Beaten Track is not so much about the technicalities of film making as it is about the passion it evokes in people across the country: the aspirations that cinema present to people in small towns and villages across the country. It has amusing anecdotes and narratives on fans of major Hindi film stars certainly but also features an array of interesting film initiatives that are being taken up to take cinema to people who do not even have electricity. The Khan fan brigade gets special mention with a Shah Rukh Khan fan whose love for the actor and star is reflected in his real life and how people in Jodhpur are divided into extremes about Salman Khan where a section of people looks at him as a villain for his blackbuck hunting while filming Hum Saath Saath Hai and another section that religiously follows his films. But the book is not about fans of star actors but the lure of the cinema and the emotion it evokes in people.

The author, Namrata Joshi has long been writing on films and her journeys for her journalistic coverage forms a major source material for this book making the chapters diverse and brimming with their unique socio cultural flavours.

The writing makes people in nondescript towns come alive because of one common thing between them and you: cinema! It is this commonality that will make you turn the pages and smile at the whims and fancy of people who aspire to get on the big screen: those who did not get to try, those who tried and failed and those who did make it, the later almost nostalgic of their cinematic roots.

A must read if you love cinema.




The Carpet Weaver by Nemat Sadat


The Carpet Weaver by Nemat Sadat

Published by: Penguin Random House India

Fiction, 300 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

When Afghanistan, 1977. Kanishka Nurzada, the son of a leading carpet seller, falls in love with his friend Maihan, with whom he shares his first kiss at the age of sixteen. Their romance must be kept secret in a nation where the death penalty is meted out to those deemed to be kuni, a derogatory term for gay men. And when war comes to Afghanistan, it brings even greater challenges-and danger-for the two lovers.

From the cultural melting pot of Kabul to the horrors of an internment camp in Pakistan, Kanishka’s arduous journey finally takes him to the USA in the desperate search for a place to call home-and the fervent hope of reuniting with his beloved Maihan. But destiny seems to have different plans in store for him.

Intimate and powerful, The Carpet Weaver is a sweeping tale of a young gay man’s struggle to come of age and find love in the face of brutal persecution.

About the author:

Nemat Sadat is a prominent activist and journalist currently based in the USA. He is the first native from Afghanistan to have publicly come out as gay and campaign for LGBTQIA rights in Muslim communities worldwide. Sadat has previously worked at ABC News’s Nightline, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and the UN Chronicle. The Carpet Weaver is his first novel.


Thank you Vivek Tejuja and Penguin India for this copy. All opinions are my own.

This debut novel weaves intricate patterns that takes one to the sweet languor of a liberal and secular Afghanistan in the late 70s as it follows the world as a 16 year old knows it unfolds when he is told at every imaginable moment to be an ‘adult man’ when his heart sings at the sight of boys and men. Set in Afghanistan, Pakistan and then the US, the narrative follows not just the story of Kanishka Nurzada whose heart lays in the art of calligraphy and carpet weaves but whose father only wants him to ‘only study for better things’ while ironically he himself throws caution to the winds by dabbling in political tangles that throws the family at peril.

The narrative is intimately personal and political in its narrative touching on the fragmented history of Afghanistan as a country and its impact on the lives of its people. Through Kanishka, we see that the liberal air in his country and in the circle he circulates in is permissive of social drinking, of young girls and boys mixing together and even subtly encouraged but stringent when it comes to homosexual love.

The writing is lush and descriptive: the reader in me could feel the sense of confusion felt by the characters, the mood of the country, the shift in the society and the political turbulence but I specially loved the way writes about Afghani food and terms of endearments: the food descriptions or rather, just the names made me long to see the food and taste them to my fill. The chemistry of desire and tension between Kanishka and his love Maihan is palpable and is poignant, complicated and plain frustrating at times.

The narrative starts from the late 70s in Afghanistan and culminates in the early 80s in the US but Pakistan plays a pivotal part not just in Kanishka’s life but between the two countries as well and it is this part that I felt was overtly dramatic. So minus one point for that but apart for that minor glitch this is a brave book that packs quite the punch.

I would really love a sequel that captures what happens to Kanishka in the US in the wake of the HIV and gay men association that broke out in the country in the late 80s and to take up what happens with his cousin Faiz whose secret life as party entertainment has been exposed.

Read this for its  brave honesty that is almost poetry at times and for a sneak into a brief history of Afghanistan.