Posts

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Adventures of a Countryside Boy by Dr. Thomas T Thomas

I did not know what I was getting myself into when I first picked up this book by Dr T3 (Dr Thomas T Thomas). That it was a memoir – I could make out. What I did not realise was that it was a roller coaster ride in the life of this young boy from small town Kerala as he navigates an exhilarating journey to be a doctor.

These are anecdotes from the life of T3 written in a simple language. The narrative is fluid and you keep turning page after page to learn what new adventures this boy would get into. The book is also a commentary on the social and political milieu of the times. But it does not feel like you are reading non-fiction.

Incidentally, the author is a General Practitioner, who worked in rural dispensaries and government hospitals by choice. Even if he is only half as interesting as his writing in real life, his patients would indeed be a happy lot.

It is a good book to have on the bookshelf.

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.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: March to Glory by Major Akash Agarwal

This is another story from small-town India, and the dreams of the young coming from middle-class families. This fictional account is written by an army officer.

Ameya is the lead protagonist. He grows up like any other child till he meets a distant relative who works in the army. He is fascinated by the olive greens, and starts dreaming of joining the forces. But dreams are not enough to attain something in life. There are failures. He does not give up. It is the story of every child who is passionate about its dreams and uses failures as stepping stones to success.

The story of achieving something worthwhile has been written by innumerable writers in times past, and many more will write in future. The plot is timeless. This novel too had the potential to be bracketed in the same category, but for a few flaws.

There are grammatical errors in the narrative. The entire process of admission to NDA is explained in great detail, which would not be of interest to every reader. Each chapter starts with a motivational quote and ends with sometimes short and other times long sermonising passages. That makes reading tedious after a few chapters.

On the positive side, the book is a good ready reckoner for youngsters wanting to join the armed forces.

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.

Let’s understand our festivals!

by Vardhan Dharkar

Navratri

A) Historical significance of Navratri

Navratri is a combination of two Sanskrut words, Nava meaning nine and Ratri meaning nights. It is a festival celebrating victory of good over evil.

It is believed that there was a demon king named Mahishasura. He was a staunch worshipper of Lord Bramha. After years of penace, Bramha was finally pleased and granted him a boon. Mad with power, Mahishasura asked for the immortality. However Lord Bramha explained that it will not be possible; everyone who is born must die. Mahishasura after some thinking then said that he should be granted a boon that no man or animal can kill him. He can be killed only by woman. Bramha granted him this boon. Armed with the boon, Mahishasura attacked the Trilok that is Pruthvi (Earth), Narak (Hell) and Swarg (Heaven). He even tried to capture Indralok (the kingdom of Lord Indra). Since he was granted the boon that no one except woman can kill him, even gods were helpless in front of him. The Gods worried that Mahishasura will defeat and conquer the Trilok prayed to Lord Vishnu for help. In order to defeat and kill Mahishasura, Lord Vishnu decided to create a woman form that will fight and kill the demon. The gods then approached Lord Shankar, the god of destruction. He along with Lord Bramha decided to put all their power in the woman, Goddess Durga, believed to be incarnation of Goddess Parvati, created by Lord Vishnu. Durg means fort and Durga means “All that is within the fort”. Accordingly Lord Vishnu created Goddess Durga and she was armed with all their powers by Lord Bramha and Mahesh, another name of Shiv Shankar, the weapons she received and their significance is as follows.

Weapons and their significance

  • Trishul: The Trishul was given by Lord Shiv to Goddess Durga. The three sharp ends of it are a symbol of ‘Trigun’ or three properties of every living being on earth. The Triguns are Sattva, Raja and Tama
  • Sudarshan Chakra: Shree Krishn gifted Sudarshan Chakra. It symbolises that the world is controlled by the goddess and the universe revolves around the centre of creation.
  • Lotus: Lotus is the symbol of Lord Bramha which represents knowledge. Half bloomed lotus is a symbol of the rise of spiritual consciousness in the mind of a human being.
  • Bow and Arrow: Bow and Arrow were given by Pawan dev and Surya dev which are a symbol of energy. Bow represents potential energy and Arrow represents kinetic energy. It also symbolises that Ma Durga controls all the sources of energy in the universe.
  • Sword: Lord Ganesh gave Sword. It symbolises knowledge and wisdom. It represents the sharpness of wisdom while the shine represents knowledge.
  • Vajra: Indra dev gave a gift of Vajra. It is the symbol of soul’s perseverance and strong resolving power. Ma Durga makes her devotees strong with indomitable self-confidence and will power.
  • Spear: Agni Dev gifted Spear, a symbol of auspiciousness. It represents fiery power. It knows the difference between right and wrong deeds.
  • Snake: Snake, given by Shiv is a symbol of consciousness and energy. It also represents the change from the lower level of consciousness to the higher level.
  • Axe: An Axe and Armor has been gifted by Lord Vishwakarma. It is a symbol of fighting evil without worrying about consequences.

Goddess Durga, armed with all these weapons, fought with the demon Mahishasura for fifteen days. During the fierce battle that shook the Trilok, Mahishasura kept on changing his appearance to various animals to deceive Goddess Durga. In the end when Mahishasura took the form of buffalo, Goddess Durga pierced his chest with Trishul and killed him, thus ending Mahishasura’s reign of terror once and for all.

My interpretation

Demon Mahishasura exists even today within each one of us in the form of desires and temptations. Like Mahishasura, the desires and temptations keep changing their form and keep coming back. If we kill one desire, another one appears in its place. These desires and temptations if not controlled and destroyed take control of our life and rule us. Just like Goddess Durga was gifted with various weapons, we are also gifted with various weapons like Mind control, Sense control, Austerity, Purity, forbearance, knowledge, Wisdom and faith in God. In order to ensure that we remain masters of our life, we need to use these weapons to sharpen our intellect so that desires and temptations are kept in control and destroyed. Uncontrolled desires and temptations create hell in our life while exercising control over them results into bliss in our life.

Nine different avatars of Goddess Durga

On each day of Navaratri different avatars of Goddess Durga are worshipped.

  • Day one – Ma Shailputri
    On the first day, Ma Shailputri is worshipped. According to mythology, the name Shailputri is derived from two words— Shaila which means mountain and Putri meaning daughter. She rides a bull and holds a trident and a lotus flower in her two hands. She is considered as the previous form of Goddess Parvati. She is believed to be the provider of fortune and prosperity.
  • Day two – Goddess Bramhacharani
    The second day is dedicated to Goddess Brahmacharini. She pursued severe penance to get Lord Shiv as her husband. The unmarried form of hers is worshipped as Goddess Brahmacharini. She carries Jap Mala (string of beads) in one hand and a Kamandal in another hand. She is barefoot adorning a white saree. To please Ma Brahmacharini, devotees offer her white flowers and clothes.
  • Day three – Goddess Chandraghanta
    Goddess Chandraghanta is worshipped on the third day. She is the married form of Goddess Parvati. She started adorning her forehead with ardha Chandra (half Moon) after her marriage to Shiv and thus came to be known as Goddess Chandraghanta. Her vahan (vehicle) is tigress. She has eight hands and carries in her eight hands chakra, mace, Jap mala, kalasha (pot), lotus flower, bow, and arrow and Kamandal. She is known for fighting against all evil forces in the universe.
  • Day four Devi Kushmanda
    On the fourth day of Navratri, Devi Kushmanda is worshipped. She is the creator of the universe and controls all energy for new creations. Her vahan is a lioness. She is known as Aadi Mata, the supreme mother behind the creation of this universe. She bestows her devotees with glory, fame and prosperity.
  • Day five – Goddess Skandamata
    On fifth day, Goddess Skandamata is worshipped. She has four-arms carrying a kamal (lotus) in two hands, holds little Skanda or Kartikay in her lap with one of her right hands and the other hand is in Abhaya Mudra that deflects all fears and everything evil. The name Skandamata is derived from her son Kartikay, who is also known as Skanda. Skandamata in Sanskrut means the mother of Skanda, who is the son of Shiv.
  • Day six – Goddess Katyayani
    Goddess Katyayani is worshipped on sixth day. She took the form of Katyayani to destroy the Mahishasura. Her vahan is lion and she has ten hands. Sage Katyaayan worshiped Goddess Durga and pleased with the devotion of the sage, Ma Durga took birth as his daughter. Ma Katyayani blesses her devotees to get rid of all their sins and attain material wellbeing.
  • Day seven – Goddess Kaalratri
    On Saptami, the seventh day, the Kaalratri form of Goddess Durga is worshipped. It is believed that she sacrificed her golden skin colour to kill demons. Kaalratri is the most ferocious form of Goddess Durga. She is depicted with a dark complexion and has four arms. Her right hands are in Abhaya and Varada Mudra and she carries a sword and a hook in her left hands.
  • Day eight – Goddess Mahagauri
    The eighth day is dedicated to Goddess Mahagauri. The name signifies one who is extremely bright or bright like the moon. She rides a white bull, adorns white clothes only and hence is also known as Shwetambardhara. She blesses her devotees with wealth and wellbeing. She also helps her devotees to attain salvation.
  • Day nine – Goddess Siddhidhatri The final day, Navami tithi, Goddess Siddhidhatri is worshipped. Goddess Siddhidatri sits on a lotus flower and her vahan is a lion. She has four hands carrying a Gada in one right hand, Chakra in the other right hand, a lotus flower in the one left hand, and Shankh in the other left hand. She is worshipped by devotees for receiving Siddhi and Nidhi, wisdom and wealth.

B) Celebration of Navaratri in different parts of India

Navratri is celebrated all over India. However each region has unique way of celebrating it.

East and North East India

Durga Pooja’s first day is Mahalaya, which heralds the advent of the goddess. Celebrations and worship begin on Shasthi, the sixth day. Exquisitely crafted and decorated life size clay idols of the Goddess Durga depicting her killing the demon Mahishasura are set up in temples and other places. She is shown with various weapons in her hand, riding on a lion. Lion signifies the dharma, the will power, while the weapons denote the focus and severity needed to destroy the negativity in our minds.

During the three days, the goddess is worshipped in her various forms as Durga, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati. The celebrations end with Vijayadashami (“Tenth Day of Victory” ), when, amid loud chants and drumbeats, sacred images are carried in huge processions to local lakes rivers or sea where they are immersed.

Western India

Gujarat

In the state of Gujarat it is celebrated with Garba and Dandiya Raas dance. The word Garba is derived from the word “Garbh” which means the womb. In this, women dance around an earthen pot containing a lamp, symbolising the life within a womb. In the Dandiya dance both women and men participate with small decorative bamboo sticks. The dancers begin with a slow tempo, and go into frenzied movements, in such a manner that each person in a circle not only performs a solo dance with his/her own sticks, but also strikes his/her partner’s dandiyas in a very graceful fashion.

Maharashtra

Unlike in other parts of India, In Maharashtra, Navratri celebration is personal and spiritual. They observe a ritual called Ghatasthapana on the first day of Navaratri. A small bed of mud is prepared in a container. In the middle of this, an earthen pot filled with water is placed. This vessel symbolizes Goddess Durga. Grains are sown in the soil around the pot and allowed to sprout. Five stems of jowar are also placed over the pot.

Women worship this pot for nine days by performing various rituals and offering fruits, flowers, leaves etc. in some homes a Kali Pooja is performed on the first two days. On the next three days a Lakshmi Puja and on the last four days a Sarasvati Puja is performed in addition to Ghatasthapana. On the eighth day of the festival (Ashtami), a ‘Yajna’ (a special puja involving fire) is performed to obtain the blessings of Goddess Durga. A Ghat puja is performed on the 9th day. Afterwards, the sprouted plants are pulled from the soil.

North India

In north India, Navratri is celebrated for victory of Shree Ram over demon king Ravan. Ram Leela is held on the nine days of Navratri, and ends on the tenth day when an effigy of Ravan is burnt, signifying victory of good over evil. The most representative Ramlilas are those of Ayodhya, Ramnagar and Benares, Vrindavan, Almora, Sattna and Madhubani.

South India

Andhra Pradesh

In Andhra Pradesh, the assembly of dolls is referred to as Batukamma Panduga, which is decorated during Navratri. Women also make a flower stack with seasonal flowers, known as Batukamma, which is worshipped for nine days. On the last day of Navratri, the Batukamma is set afloat in a nearby water body.

Karnataka

Karnataka celebrates Navratri as Dasara. The city of Mysuru has a 400-year long tradition of celebrating it. The Mysore Palace is illuminated on all nights and various cultural and religious programmes take place in front of it. On the ninth day of the festival, a procession is carried out from the palace. The main attraction of the procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari, placed on a huge golden top. Dance groups, music bands, decorated elephants, horses, and camels form a part of this vivid colourful procession.

Kerala

Navratri is popular as Thiruvallakkavu Festival in Kerala and is one of the much-awaited festivals dedicated to Goddess Durga. In “Gods Own Country”. Three days of Ashtami, Navami & Vijaya Dashmi are celebrated as Saraswati Pooja in which books are worshipped. On Ashtami books are kept for Pooja and on Vijaya Dashmi after performing Saraswati Pooja, books are ceremoniously taken out for reading.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu celebrates Navratri by worshipping Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi for three days each. The most interesting part of the celebrations is the decoration of the kolu, a 9 step staircase. It is said that each step represents each day of the festival. The stairs are adorned in miniature dolls of gods and goddesses. The miniature dolls of gods, goddesses, animal and people are arranged on the steps where the number of steps should be an odd number and while the dolls of shopkeepers are kept on the bottom most steps, Acharyas and gurus are placed on the middle step, other gods in the top 3 steps and Devi in the topmost step.

Wishing everyone a very happy Navratri!

26 September 2022

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Her Untamed Soul by Mandira Mazumder

This is a story set in the harsh realities of our times. It is a multi-layered story about two subjects – women emancipation and the caste system. The line between the two is often blurred as both are treated almost at par in a patriarchal society – they do not have a voice or say in their lives.

Latha is introduced in the first chapter as a spirited child, often scolded by her mother for bullying the boys in the neighbourhood, but indulged by her father. She belongs to an upper caste family in a small town in Tamil Nadu. As she grows into adolescence, and then adulthood, she starts noticing the way her father treats the lower caste tenants ruthlessly. This is a facet of her father that she cannot reconcile to, apart from the fact that the society continues to be male dominated where girls do not have a say in pursuing studies or selecting a life partner.

Without revealing the plot, I can only say that I am looking forward to reading the other two books in this three book series.

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

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

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Charu Majumdar, The Dreamer Rebel by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay

I first came across the term Naxalite when I was a young boy of 17 and had just started college. I read in some film magazine that the popular movie star Mithun Chakraborty was involved with the movement in his younger days. But it was a gossip journal; and besides it was too far removed from my consciousness, having been born and brought up in north India.

A few years later, when I started government job in east India, I heard about many violent incidents in the past against senior colleagues by members of the movement. It was also around this time that I heard about Charu Majumdar, who was considered the originator of the movement. But it was still too far back in the past for me to really explore further.

With this background, I could not resist the temptation of reading this book about Charu Majumdar, who, besides calling for an armed revolution, taught many to dream, as described by the author on the back cover of this small book, which is only a little bigger than a pocket book.

The biography is based on official documents and writings from that period. It is a well researched account of Charu Majumdar and the Naxalite movement. It explains the reasons for the movement to catch the imagination of the contemporary youth, who were dissatisfied with the living conditions of the poor farmers, and felt that all political parties were only interested in exploring them for political gains. The movement spread like wild fire.

The writing style is such that it makes this biographical book written with excerpts from official papers, documented speeches, and letters, more like a well-narrated story. I remained invested in the book till the very end. My only complaint is a one-sided tendency to eulogise the violence against the state machinery, and calling the counter offensive as repression.

The book is an attempt to highlight the contributions of a not so well-known personality, who in his own way contributed in shaping the country as we see it today. I look forward to reading more books under this series titled by the publishers as Pioneers of Modern India.

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

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Light Between Words by Nirmala Pillai

“I am not a poet. This is a genre that leaves me baffled.” I told Nirmala when she requested me to review her book of poems. But I could not refuse her, as she is a colleague bureaucrat and now a friend. I am glad that I read her poems.

Each of the 46 poems captures a slice of emotion not just from our daily lives, but from our lifetime itself. There is happiness, there is sorrow; there is satire, there is also the comic; there is life, there is death; there are poignant moments.

An example – A Small White Hair. I could not imagine that a poetry could be written about the moment when one first discovers a white hair, and the pain that it causes.

Another example – Her God, “Patidev”. The abuse a woman bears at the hands of one man, as She cannot kill him. She cannot die… In his death She ceases to be- He is the ‘God’ He is her “Patidev” How can she? A stark reality of our life across different social strata.

Or Mumbadevi which is a search for the Goddess of the city of Mumbai, Yes, goddess You live in high places.

Poetry lovers would certainly love this book.

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

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The (In)significant Soul by Abhishek Chaturvedi

Kabir is born in a lower middle-class family in small-time India. He, like so many others in the same social strata, are expected to lead an insignificant life. But he refuses to bow down to destiny.

His chance meeting with a distant relative from the army makes him see the dreams of joining the Indian army through NDA. Failure to do so in the first attempt makes him even more determined to clear the entrance examination.

As he moves along in life, Kabir meets several people, and gathers many bitter-sweet experiences. He realises that he is not insignificant since he refuses to accept a common life as his destiny. This is the message that he sends out to all – do not accept an insignificant life.

The author is a serving army man. There are many anecdotes from the army life beginning from the NDA selection process, till actual life in the army, well woven in this fictional narrative. This would certainly appeal to the younger generation on the threshold of embarking on their professional journey.

There is only one aspect in the book that did not work for me. Each chapter starts with a motivational quote and ends with a few lines, and sometimes with a single or multiple paragraphs, of moral preaching, about how one should handle situations in life. This was too much in the face as I progressed from chapter to chapter. The book lost its charm of a good fictional read.

The book should appeal to the younger generation.

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

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Muffled Screams of Buriganga by Sthitaprajna Debadutta Kar

Adyasha is an investigative journalist based in Delhi. She has successfully worked on many high profile cases in the past, and is currently investigating an incident in Jagannathpur in Bangladesh.

Arfin, a Bangladeshi journalist has been her mentor, and is now more of a brother. He promises to send her documents and pictures pertaining to the incident by the next morning, but fails to keep his words.

Adyasha later learns through a newspaper report that he was brutally killed with his wife. She travels to Dhaka for the funeral, and then decides to visit Jagannathpur for her story. It seems that Arfin’s death is linked to the evidence that he wanted to send her.

It is an edge of the seat book. The storytelling is compelling. You are left guessing about what will come next. It does not falter as Adyasha tries to unravel the mystery behind the gruesome incident. The end, when it comes, is unexpected.

The book would appeal to readers who love a good crime thriller.

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

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for book reviews