Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

Halloween nights are not for the weak-hearted, what with all the scary masks. But the fun-filled laughter of the children and the young adolescents is enough to soon put one at ease and bring on a smile on the face of even the grumpiest. The death of a child during such a night is unthinkable.

But this is what happens in a village Halloween party in England. A young girl is found dead, her head forced down in a bucket full of apples bobbing in water, while the other children were shrieking with joy in the next room. The party is also attended by an author, who is a friend of Hercule Poirot.

This is the cue for the famous Belgian detective to make an entry. It is a small village where everyone knows everyone. Who could have murdered a young child, who was overheard boasting about witnessing a murder a few years back, only a few hours before her death? The girl was known to be a compulsive liar, whose tall claims could not be taken seriously.

Poirot goes around meeting people and sifting through evidence to eventually nail the killer before another murder could take place.

Anything more might spoil the chill of reading the book on a winter night. Let me just say… Another gripping case solved by the master detective.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Book Reviews, Author Show, Guest Blogs, and Creative Writing Workshop.

Musings of a Pioneer: Let us be more Humane!

I was in Corbett for a three day Literature Festival. I had two diverse, yet, strangely related conversations during my stay.

I met an 80-year gentleman author, a Punjabi, born in Lahore in the undivided India. Well… Not really 80, but going to be 80 in the next few months, but he wanted me, and I am sure whosoever he met, to know, with a twinkle in his eyes, that he had crossed a milestone.

But my blog is not about his age. He crossed over to India with his parents and siblings as a 4+ little child at the time of partition. His family chose to go to Bombay and not Delhi. He still has memories of living in the camp and using communal toilets for 8 years, or almost till the start of his teenage years. His father was a well settled government official in Lahore.

The circumstances did not deter him. This gentleman studied and joined the merchant navy. He sailed on ships till in the early 80s, he was on a holiday to Goa with his wife. He loved the place enough to decide to quit a well paying job, and settle in Goa four decades back. He established a ship building company. At some time, he said enough is enough, called his solicitors, vertically split the company in two parts – one for each of his two sons.

He now writes books for the pleasure that it gives him.

The other conversation I had was the next morning during the mandatory jungle safari that we must indulge in whenever we are in the vicinity of a forest, even if it is at an ungodly 6 AM on a cold winter morning.

We did not have the privilege of having breakfast with the famed four-legged animal, the tiger. The forest was a lush green after the monsoons, but we were just a wee bit… let us just say… not so happy.

Sensing our disappointment, the guide and the driver attributed the lack of sightings to the government decision to relocate four of the tourist friendly tigers to another forest. They were equally vehement in claiming that the same animals are nowhere to be seen in their new habitat. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the claim, but then the locals must know.

Migration of any nature would be traumatic – be it humans or animals. My new Punjabi friend has made a success of his life by dint of hard labour; but he still remembers his life in the camp, particularly the communal toilets. Decades have failed to erase those memories, though he tries to cover the trauma flippantly.

The tigers may not have the emotions that we usually attribute to humans, but translocation seems to be equally traumatic to them. I do not know if they would retain these memories to the end of their lives, but for now they seem to be impacted.

Is it not time for us to step back and pause to reflect before we take the next step towards anything that is less humane!

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Infidel Next Door by Rajat Mitra

Past is the stepping stone to future. A good or a bad future is for us to build on the foundation of life gone by. But what if the past is not the immediate past, not even decades old, but one that goes back centuries! And if it was so traumatic that forgetting it is a tempting invitation!

The book is the story of Kashmir, not only in the present, but one that is built on centuries of persecution. Aditya is a young priest, who returns to renovate a temple, demolished eons ago, and whose ancestors perished in a futile attempt to save it.

Next to the ruins is a mosque, and Anwar is the son of the Imam. He has vowed to create an Islamic Kashmir. Torn between her love for the priest, and her faith, is Zeba, sister of Anwar.

This is a great story – of a search for roots, and about the strength of forgiveness. There is yet hope – for the future.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Book Reviews, Author Show, Guest Blogs, and Creative Writing Workshop.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Shree’s Varah by Sandhya Borkar

A young woman – she is the sister of the evil sarpanch; her husband – a young man liked by the villagers and a leader to the underprivileged for which he is murdered on the behest of the village head; the young man’s precocious sister; the beloved Raja Saheb; a young doctor settled in USA; and his wife.

The village festival held every 12 years is the setting where all the characters come together. Miracles happen during the mela as Lord Shree comes down amongst the devotees to bless the devout and finish evil.

As I started reading the book, I was certain that I would not like the story – I am not a fan of the supernatural genre. I was mistaken. It was a light breezy read once I had gotten over my initial shock of miracles. Besides, I have been a big fan of the many Bollywood potboilers, and the story reminded me of the movies from the 70s.

The book needs few editorial inputs.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Book Reviews, Author Show, Guest Blogs, and Creative Writing Workshop.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Snippets of Life Music by Ramesh Chandra Tiwari

We gather snippets of wisdom as we grow older. We also want the younger generation to gain from our experiences and not commit blunders or follies that we fell to. That brings in a tendency to be repetitive and often preachy. But each generation has its own challenges, and would love to learn from its mistakes. That is what life is about.

The title of the anthology is apt. Each of the short stories in the book is about different facets of relationships, and life itself, but most of them relate to incidents in the lives of the lower middle-class. Quite a few of these snippets may not be even relevant to the fast paced technology driven upper middle class upward generation.

I have mentioned in one of my earlier reviews also, an author has to walk a tightrope while delivering message – it has to be subtle. The book suffers from an in your face sermonising. It also needs improvement in grammar.

The book is an attempt at character building in the younger generation.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Let’s Understand Our Festivals! by Vardhan V Dharkar

Deepavali

Historical Significance

Deepavali also called Diwali is India’s one of the most important festival. It is a festival that celebrates victory of Good over Evil, Light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. Along with Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhist also celebrate Deepavali. Widely observed among more than a billion people from a variety of faiths across India and its diaspora, the five days of Diwali are marked by prayer, rangoli, feasts, lighting of clay lamps and Kandeels as also fireworks, family gatherings, and charitable giving. For some, it is also the beginning of a new year.

Deepavali/Diwali word is derived from the Sanskrut word “Deepavali”, which means “row of lights,” Diwali is known for the brightly burning clay lamps that celebrants line up outside their homes.

The dates of this festival are based on the Hindu lunar calendar, which marks each month by the time it takes the moon to orbit Earth. Diwali begins just before the arrival of a new moon between the Hindu months of Ashwin and Kartik which typically falls in October or November of the Gregorian calendar. In 2022, the five days of Diwali begin on October 22 and conclude on 26th October

Hinduism which is considered to be the world’s oldest living religion, dating back to the second millennium B.C .there are several versions of Deepavali/Diwali that vary among geographies/communities. These, however, are all epic tales of victory won by men who were considered incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, regarded as the sustainer of the universe, and whose role it is to restore the balance of good and evil in times of trouble.

In northern India, Diwali commemorates Prince Ram’s triumphant return to the city of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and after slaying demon King Ravan in a battle to rescue his wife Sita who was kidnapped by Ravan in Treta Yug

Dhantrayodashi/Dhanteras

Dhanvantri Trayodashi or Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanteras, marks the commencement of Diwali celebrations across India. It falls on the 13th lunar day (Trayodashi Tithi) of Krishna Paksh or Dark Fortnight. On this day people buy utensils, jewellery, vehicles, and home/kitchen appliances, as they believe that the festival of Dhanteras is auspicious for buying metals. Devotees worship Goddess Lakshmi on Dhanteras for happiness, prosperity, and wealth. Dhantrayodashi is associated with a few popular Hindu mythological anecdotes. Many people dedicate Dhantrayodashi to medicine Lord Dhanvantri, while others spend their time worshipping Lord Yama raj and Goddess Lakshmi.

Story of Lord Dhanvantri:

Dhanvantri is considered the god of Ayurveda and Medicine. It’s believed that he was the one who imparted knowledge of Ayurveda to mankind and helped them get rid of diseases. On Dhantrayodashi, devotees pray to Lord Dhanvantri for curing chronic illnesses through Ayurveda.

Dhanvantri was a manifestation of Lord Vishnu and was born via Samudra Manthan, or the churned sea, with a book based on Ayurveda and an Amrut pot in his hands.

Story of Goddess Lakshmi:

Another legendary story on Dhantrayodashi is associated with Goddess Lakshmi. Goddess Lakshmi emerged through Samudra Manthan in Sat Yug, sitting on a lotus, with a vessel stocked with gold, symbolizing good fortune, prosperity, happiness, and wealth. Devotees make beautiful rangolis at their main door and light up their homes with diyas to welcome Goddess Lakshmi and seek her blessings.

Besides, daughters are referred to as Goddess Lakshmi in Hindu families or as an embodiment of good luck. Rituals of Dhanteras and Lakshmi Pooja also manifest the belief that when daughters or daughters-in-law leave behind their foot impressions at the entrance of their house using ‘kumkum,’ the family is blessed with success and prosperity.

Story of Lord Yamaraj:

Lastly, the third and most interesting story is based on King Hima’s son, whose horoscope predicted that he’d die on the 4th day after his marriage because of a snake bite. However, upon hearing this, his wife made the decision to turn her husband’s fate around. She ensured that her husband didn’t sleep on the 4th day of their marriage by narrating stories and keeping him awake. To deceive the snake, she made a pile of all her coins and ornaments at their sleeping chamber’s entrance and lit several diyas. When the god of death, Yamaraj, arrived disguised as a snake, he couldn’t see anything due to the brightness of the diyas and the metals. It is believed that Lord Yamaraj stayed there the entire night and left the following morning silently, without killing King Hima’s son. For this reason, Dhantrayodashi is also known as Yamadeepdaan, where people offer earthen diyas to Lord Yamaraj to please him and pray for the long lives of their family.

Narak Chaturdashi

In Dwapar Yug, on this day Shri Krishn killed the demon Narakasur. It is believed that Narakasur had imprisoned 16,000 women in his palace and meted out harsh punishments to any of his subjects who dared stand up against him. Enraged by this, Satyabhama, wife of Sri Krishn requested him to kill Narakasur. On the day of Chaturdashi, Sri Krishn and Satyabhama killed Narakasur. The dying Narakasur asked Shri Krishn for a boon, “On this day (tithi) the one who takes an auspicious bath (Mangalsnan) will not suffer in hell.” Shree Krishn granted him the boon. Consequently, the fourteenth (Chaturdashi) day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin also came to be known as Narak Chaturdashi. On this day when Shrī Krishn returned home at dawn, after slaying Narakasur, adorning a spot (Tilak) of Narkasur’s blood on His forehead, Nanda gave Him an auspicious bath. The women expressed their joy by moving lit lamps around His face (ovalani) and on that day people started bathing before sunrise

Bali Pratipada:

Demon king Bali was a grandson of Bhakt Pralhad. Although he was a demon, he was fair, ethical and a good administrator of his kingdom. He was also known as very charitable king. However with his immense power he started harassing Gods and started defeating them. All the Gods went to Shree Vishnu and requested him to punish and defeat Bali. Shree Vishnu took the Avatar (Incarnation) as Vaman (Dwarf) and went to Bali. Shree Vishnu requested Demon king Bali to give him land equivalent to three paces. Bali agreed to the request. Vaman them transformed himself into a giant form. In his first two steps, he occupied Pruthvi (Earth) and Swarg (Heaven). Then he asked Bali for the space to take the third step. Bali offered Shree Vishnu his head to keep his feet. Shree Vishnu then banished Demon king Bali to Patal (Netherworld) by keeping his feet on the head of Bali. However Shree Vishnu granted Bali a boon that on the day of Pratipada, people will worship him for his generosity and kind nature.

The day is also celebrated as ‘Diwalicha Padva’ in Maharashtra. This is a celebration of togetherness of husband and wife and love shared by them. To mark the occasion wife does ‘aukshan’ of her husband and husband gives a special gift to his spouse.

Lakshmi Pooja

Lakshmi Pooja is on Amavasya (no moon day). . Goddess Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth Even though the night is dark, with hundreds of clay lamps; it gets brightly illuminated for Goddess Lakshmi to bless us with prosperity. She likes cleanliness and she blesses those who practise cleanliness.

Bhau Beej (Bhai Dooj)

Bhau-Beej is celebrated on the second lunar day of the Shukla Paksh (bright fortnight) of the Kartik month. The occasion falls on the last day of the five day long celebrations of Diwali. It is also celebrated as “Yama Dwitiya” in the southern parts of India.

According to the one legend, Lord Krishna visited his sister, Subhadra after killing demon Narakasur. Her sister gave a warm welcome to him and made the occasion really special through flowers and sweets. Subhadra also applied the ceremonial “Tilak” on the forehead of her brother, Krishna and hence the festival of “Bhau Beej” was born.

Another legend revolves around the story of Yama, the God of Death and his sister Yamuna. It is believed that he met his beloved sister on Dwitiya, the second day after the new moon after ages. Hence Yamuna was very happy and she welcomed him by applying Tilak on his head and offered various sweets to him. Yam raj was very pleased with this welcome and declared that henceforth whoever shall celebrate this festival with their brothers/sisters will be given the boon of long life, thus the occasion began to be celebrated as “Yama Dwitiya” across the country from that day.

Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, three minority religions in India, have their own Diwali stories. For Sikhs, whose religion arose in the late 15th century as a movement within Hinduism that is particularly devoted to Vishnu, Diwali commemorates the release of the 17th-century guru Hargobind after 12 years of imprisonment by Mughal emperor Jahangir.

Jains, whose ancient religion dates back to the middle of the first century B.C. and also share many of the beliefs of Hinduism, observe Diwali as the day that Lord Mahavir, the last of the great Jain teachers, reached nirvana.

And Buddhists, whose religion emerged in the late 6th century B.C. in what, some describe as a reaction to Hinduism, celebrate it as the day the Hindu Emperor Ashok, who ruled in the third century B.C.converted to Buddhism.

My interpretation of what Deepavali represents

Deepavali is a festival of Lights. The lamps each one of us has to light are the lamps of
* Knowledge,
* Compassion
* Fairness
* Truthfulness and
* Generosity

Dhantrayodashi tells us to invest in health. We have to invest in improving not only physical health but also in mental health. Wealth without health has no meaning.

Narak Chaturdashi tells us to cleanse ourselves not only externally, but also more importantly to cleanse our minds by getting rid of bad habits

Bali Pratipada teaches us to be humble and not to use power for wrong means but only for the welfare of society.

Lakshmi Pooja teaches us to Pray to Goddess Lakshmi for abundant wealth. In the olden days, people used to invest in gold or silver. Today we should add investments in
* Life Insurance policies
* Health insurance policies
* Sovereign Gold Bonds as also in
* Mutual funds

However the wealth is not only the monetary wealth but it includes wealth of
* Knowledge and also
* Health

While we are praying for abundant wealth, we have to pray not only for ourselves but also for family, community and society at large.

Padva and Bhau Beej tell us the sanctity of relationships, nurture them and grow them.

So let us celebrate Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, in the right spirit by spreading knowledge, fighting inequality, nurturing relationships and spreading “Wealth”!!

Wishing everyone a very Happy Deepavali!

22nd October 2022
आश्विन १२, १९४४

Click on the link to watch other blogs by Vardhan Dharkar in Let’s Understand Our Festivals! Series

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Sone Chandi Ke Buth by KA Abbas

This was another interesting translated semi-non-fiction that I read this year in August. The reason for the unusual genre classification – one section of the book, out of the three in which it is divided, consists of short stories. These stories are based on the life of some personalities from the film industry, obviously with changed names. If you are conversant with the lives of the celebrities from around 1950 to the 1970s, then you just might identify them.

Part 1 of the book covers 10 articles by Abbas, each covering one or the other great from the industry across diverse aspects of filmmaking. These are the people who Abbas came in contact with, and who influenced him. These are producers, directors, music directors, lyricists, and actors. As you read the articles, you can feel the admiration that the author had for these personalities.

The last section consists of articles that Abbas wrote as a film critique and other miscellaneous subjects about films, covering diverse aspects of filmmaking. The articles are witty at times, poignant at other times, and make you visualise a period that many of us may not even have read about.

Since this work is a translation from Urdu, I do not know if the translation does justice to the original writing. But for me the book was a wonderful looking back into the past.

I only wish that the translators come up with more volumes covering other artists from that era. There is only one issue that I had with the book – the author comes across as biased in favour or against certain filmmakers. An example – while he justifies the changes that Raj Kapoor made to his script in Bobby, in the same breath he condemns the interference by Dilip Kumar in the films that he acted in later years. But to give credit, he praises the latter as a great actor. And as I mentioned earlier, many of my favourite actors are missing. Maybe he did not find them mention-worthy.

An interesting read.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews, author show, guest blog, and creative writing workshop.