Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reflections: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

This well acclaimed book is the autobiography of Maya Angelou (Marguerite Johnson), focusing on her childhood and teenage years. The memoir strings together Maya Angelou's vivid memories of her growing years in a hostile society that cruelly disregarded African Americans. Hailing from a broken family, Angelou and her brother are shifted between their mother, paternal grandmother and father. Her poetic prose conveys the deep angst of a young girl who is in search of a paternal figure to lean on for love and affection and tries to piece together a family. Her childhood has been mercilessly lacerated with deep scars - rape, racism, parental abandonment, neglect, depression, teenage pregnancy etc. In many ways it is very inspiring that Angelou built her identity through many of her personal crisis and guided her mind towards better ways of living, despite minimal parental nurture. Her love for literature, and curiosity towards information from books seemed to form her guiding light. I was impressed at her maturity and sensitive perception of people, even as a young girl.

Despite her prose being so evocatively profound, Angelou's narration has a sense of detachment. The sense of detached reflection makes her writing all the more deep and insightful without the distraction of heavy emotions and sentiments. Her writing enfolds very sensitive and wise reflections into very creative and beautiful metaphors that it takes time to decrypt the words and reflect on them. The paragraphs cannot be simply read - they are meant to be savored. Her poetic imagination is wonderful. During the initial pages of the book, I was more keen on learning her story, but there comes a point where you realize that the book is more about the development of her personality and identity, than the tale of her life.

I was a little disappointed that she ended the memoir a little abruptly. It was like riding on a high wave and then being suddenly dropped down. I was waiting for her to wrap up her thoughts, her experiences and probably even discuss a little about why she chose this title for her memoir, but she brought the book to a close as a beginning of another chapter - perhaps it was meant to be so, for the current memoir focuses just on the first 17 years of her life.

With my unabated curiosity, I came up with an interpretation as to why she chose the title - "I know why the caged bird sings". An obvious interpretation of "caged bird" is the servitude that haunted her because of her race and color. In addition to this, I also saw her childhood to be caged - she constantly struggled to be free as a child, free of worries, of pain and solitude. Her childhood spirit was stunted and trapped within her, wings clipped and scarred. But these bitter experiences taught her to survive, it enriched her wisdom, encouraged her to explore and develop her talents and to seek her own living. Her deeply moving poems and prose seem to signify the song of the trapped spirit.

The title was borrowed from the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "Sympathy". The poem piteously describes the state of African Americans shackled by their servitude. The third paragraph of the poem reads as:

"I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,--
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings--
I know why the caged bird sings! "

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reflections: Letter From Peking

It's a pity to realize that there are hardly any copies of this book left. Most of Pearl Buck's books are, much to my surprise and bewilderment, lost inside a literary tombstone. But I was glad that I could find a very befitting picture of the book's cover - this is exactly how I would have wished the cover to be on my borrowed copy.

The book's core doesn't stray much from Pearl Buck's much beloved theme - the east and west reaching out to love and accept each other. Elizabeth is an American ardently in love with her half-Chinese husband, Gerald. Her fervent love for Gerald made her a strong woman who was ready to rebel , leave her country and make a home in China. Following the Communist's upheaval within China, Elizabeth and her son are forced to leave Gerald and move to America. Gerald's patriotism and loyalty towards China forbids him to abandon his country - and so he remains, torn with guilt and longing for his family, and a fierce sense of duty towards his country. His occasional letters sent surreptitiously every few months remained the only vestige of hope for the family to unite, until the letters dwindled and a final one came along. The tale is about a heartrending love between two people, separated by the world, because of the races that profiled their faces and genes.

Being half-Chinese and half-American was so pitiful a state when the world tore apart and the oceans distinctly marked the two continents as different and distant. Those like Gerald and his son were stranded, befuddled on where to turn and which country to hold close to them, while both countries silently rejected and never completely accepted them. But both father and son struggle to make home in the country they choose, yielding to sacrifices they couldn't escape from. Meanwhile Elizabeth lives on hope, and nourishes her life through the deep and unending love for Gerald. The book reads on as Elizabeth's journal. It records events that are simple and plain, emotions that are deep and pure.

Pearl Buck's tales have so much realism in them that within a few pages they cease to be a story, a novel - they transform to images of real people living their realities, without embellishments, fancy twists or miracles. Elizabeth's journal captures the pain, the love, the maturity and growing wisdom of a woman cruelly separated from her husband and is left to cope with loneliness. Pearl Buck's characters always come alive from her stories and it's difficult to shake them off as fictitious. Elizabeth comes to life representing many separated and lonely women - victims of the world breaking apart.

The writing in this book is one of Pearl Buck's best. Words rustle and trickle so beautifully, capturing and reflecting on every little emotion and feeling. A simple description of the sunlight out the window, or the spring in the air... seemingly minor in detail, but so immaculately wonderful in their expression. To me, this book symbolizes Pearl Buck's literary spirit.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reflections: The Man Who Ate The 747

J.J is the record keeper for the World's Book of Records, who has traveled far and wide to record and verify world records of all kinds being created and shattered by aspirants who wanted to immortalize themselves through a mention in the Book. JJ's life revolved around seeking such greatness - he'd witnessed men do the most grueling and incredulous things to achieve that greatness. Through every euphoria of a "record", J.J lived his dreams vicariously and chased his life in search of more greatness. Having been accused of not knowing anything about love, he races to a little farmland in Nebraska to verify and record the feat of a farmer named Wally eating a junked Jumbo Jet 747, to prove his hopeless love to the much sought after maiden, Willa. In this curious adventure, J.J learns quite a few lessons about the nature of love, and witnesses quite a few records being created - asides the eating of a Jumbo Jet.

Typical of me, my immediate thoughts when I read the first few chapters were of immense curiosity of people who seemed so invincible and crazy to attempt such things, when there were bigger concerns in the world. News reporters and TV broadcasters acting like greedy vultures swooping in to make the most of such a ludicrous thing, was quite saddening... the harsh realities of our world, to look for ways of making money and surviving. Then I shushed those thoughts away, for that wasn't what the book was aiming to convey. Through a very charming, sweet and predictable love story, the author folds in the message that great records and wonders are not created through the raw facts of statistics and timing. There can be many men who might come forward to eat plenty more 747s, but their "greatness" would fall flat in the light of a simple and good farmer who loved a woman so much that his depth of love drove him to endure anything. Such an unquantifiable measure of love and pristine goodness is a record, a wonder. They say the best things in life, cannot be seen, bought or measured. These aspects cannot be caught in a single moment, frozen with timing and numbers, nor can they be preserved in a physical space of glasses and security. They are to be experienced, and felt... only to be stored in the folds of our brain lobes in the form of tiny electrical signals or as chemicals filling in the synapses of our memory. And such a record, a deep impression despite not worthy of qualification in any Book of Records, is an indelible wonder within us.

The tale teases skeptics of "true love", who cast it off as a mere work of hormones and chemicals - surges in dopamine and oxytocin as nature's way of encouraging genetic intermingling. Through the book, I was reminded of the tale of the "Hunchback of Notre Dame". A physically deformed beast of a person falls hopelessly in love with a bewitchingly beautiful gypsy all because she offered him a few drops of water - the only gesture of love and kindness the world had ever bestowed on him. He goes on to furiously stand by his loyalty to the woman. But contrary to the classic, the book promises a happy ending with a very heartwarming message that makes you go down memory lane - to recognize, appreciate and thank all the wonderful records people created for you, in their own little ways.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflections: The Lovely Bones

A fourteen year old girl Susie Salmon gets raped and murdered in a cornfield near her house. The dead girl watches over her family, friends and her killer from Heaven and narrates this tale. No doubt the content is dark and weighs heavy, but the book tells a very moving tale of a young girl's hopes and angst, and her family's tumultuous journey of coping with their loss.

The characters have been shaped with a lot of depth and reality. I have never before been scared of a character from a book - but despite hardly any gore or graphic descriptions of the violence or of the killer, Sebold brings out spine chills every time the killer is mentioned. Movies have their way of conveying this same fear through the actor's visual manifestation of the violence and psychotic instincts, but for a book to bring out that same impact with such subtle teasing of the killer's disturbed state, is pretty commendable. The killer really disturbed me, and that's not much of a surprise. But my recommendation would be to not sit through the book in the dead of the night :)

Quite a few paranormal phenomena have been integrated into the story, some of which I felt could have been done without. Some parts reminded me of "Sixth Sense" and the TV show "Ghost Whisperer"... both of which deal with the concept that the dead who were abruptly cut off from their life on Earth, linger on to avenge their death or communicate something to their loved ones. I'm obviously quite skeptical (and scared) of such phenomena and I avoid thinking about them. Since this is a work of fiction, I'm not dissecting these aspects. However with Sebold's poetic prose, one can imagine many metaphoric levels to these phenomena... spirits can be equated to memories of loved ones, etc... and that's what I tried to do. Despite bringing in such phenomena, the book doesn't turn into a scary/grim "ghost" thriller. The first half of the book has a tinge of humour to it, making the whole narration very interesting and creative. The middle of the book gets intense as the killer's life gets traced, and Susie's family falls apart with the pain of her death. Despite the killer being introduced within the very first pages of the book, the crux of the suspense is how the police/detectives and Susie's family track down the killer. Somewhere down the line, I vehemently awaited justice on behalf of so many young girls who have suffered a similar fate in reality. My main quibble is that I didn't find enough closure from the ending - I was expecting a climax, but it seemed to fizzle out with an induced paranormal phenomenon. It thwarted the momentum and flow of the book for me.

The family's grief and helplessness are quite moving, and Sebold's writing beautifully captures it all. I loved her lyrical prose. Her writing wrings out every subtle emotion from each of the characters. It doesn't do justice to gulp down her prose... the words hold a lot of insight and they are very creatively expressed, leaving a haunting and profound impact on life, death, acceptance and moving on.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reflections: All Under Heaven

In addition to bombarding this space with my sudden splurge of thoughts on books, what's with this marathon on Coelho's and Buck's? Lets just call it Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and going by esteemed recommendations :)

All Under Heaven is a book that deals with the acceptance of human beings as belonging to just one kind - Humankind, under the all encompassing and loving heavens. A distinguished American diplomat, having served in China for twenty five years, returns home to America with his loving Russian wife and two children. The family's sudden return was due to the imminent Communist Revolution that threatened to destroy many such foreign and noble families, merely because of their social standing. The McNeil family loved China and was integrated in it's rich culture. Except for Mr. McNeil, the rest of the family were as much Chinese as they were not Americans. Even Mr. McNeil, despite his American descent, felt more of a stranger after all his years away from the country. Added to this, was Mrs. McNeil's Russian heritage, intermingling a culture into the family that was founded out of love and the energy to bring forth peace and harmony. The book is a realistic recount of this "mixed" family's struggles and challenges to integrate into America, and their lessons on what it takes to be accepted as true Americans.

Our identities have their roots in the land in which we are nurtured. Our ways of thinking, cultural orientations, and ways of living get tainted by the experiences of the people and traditions of the land. When we enter a new land, our identities are forced to be reformed, to desperately fit in. There ensues a very familiar conflict between our torn personalities - one apprehensive of losing our essence and roots, and the other eager to fit in, to be accepted. In the process, some parts of us get subdued, dormant, fading away into a corner of the soul; some we integrate to form a clarified version of east and west, as a consolation of the best of two worlds, while some parts of our identities grow afresh, sprouting entirely as children of the new land and culture. Pearl Buck brings out these aspects in the book, as the diverse family struggles to be part of America, while fearful of not losing their true self. The adolescent children of the family find it more easier to grow into Americans and are eager to shed away their prejudiced associations, while the parents fear the integrity of such a growth.

Most of us have faced the challenges of entering a new country, a new culture and way of living. America as it is today, is seen as reasonably welcoming, speckled with diverse culture, cuisines and acceptance of liberal and independent ways of living. The transition has been made almost seamless. But more than five decades before, when revolutions were at their hilt and the world kept breaking and patching up, entering a new country that was wary of foreigners from Communist countries, did not promise such a welcoming experience. The book introduces the America of the yesteryear's - conservative and closed. Pearl Buck delicately brings out the prejudices towards communists, and ignorant beliefs towards them. She openly laments on how America shielded itself from world affairs and history, and people led their quick judgments to isolate anyone with a remote association with China or Russia. Warm hearted young men wanted to bomb, without wanting to think, reason, or find a harmonious solution, while the white peasants were complacent to not worry about what was happening across the oceans.

The book touches upon Communism's impact on those intellectuals like the McNeil's family who desired harmonious existence, but were branded and discriminated due to their social class and heritage. In addition to the misunderstood concepts on Communism, the family's struggle to culturally fit in, forms a realistic and insightful tale.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reflections: Veronika Decides to Die

Another Paulo Coelho's work. This book really stirred me. Veronika is a young, pretty woman who has a life with nothing to complain, and yet she decides to end it, only because it was too plain, simple, and without much meaning. Rather than go through the same mundane experiences every single day, she decided to die. Having plunged into the deep trenches of death's hug, she shoots all the way up from the depths and then ironically struggles to escape from death's touch. The book is about her journey. And an interesting element is that her journey takes place inside a mental asylum, into which she gets admitted because of her seemingly lunatic attempt to end her life.

As with his other books, Coelho tries to get across the message that one needs to stop suffocating from the rules, norms and impositions of society. Through stories of some of the asylum's inmates, he questions what normality is, and the price people pay to contort their lives to fit the accepted template prescribed by humanity and religion. This line of thought, resonates with mine - I've often pondered on how the line between sanity and insanity is far more blurry than we assume. Sometimes the territory beyond the boundary of "normality" is nothing but a realm of genius and level of consciousness that escapes the limitations of average human understanding. Many great minds have been ridiculed as insane, eccentric and crazy, only because people restrained their power of thoughts, possibilities and imaginations.

It always makes me uneasy when I have to acknowledge the disastrous effects of a deranged mind. It makes me twice as much uncomfortable when I have to acknowledge that the mind is indeed very flimsy and can snap if pushed beyond it's capacity. The book deals with the issue of people becoming recluse and living in their own worlds, if they are forced to alter their true self to fit expectations from parents, society and religion. I found it very interesting that the asylum was deemed as a safe and tolerant paradise by most of the inmates. Contrary to the real world, the security of total anarchy and lack of judgement that the asylum promised was comforting to people as they could express their true innermost self, without being ashamed or fearful. After all, nurses and doctors expected "craziness" and didn't complain if there were "abnormal" behaviors. This helped some people realize their true self, through unabashed expression. To some, it was a haven of escapism, away from the cruel realities outside the glass walls. In some ways, it was hard to define which was more real - life inside the walls, or the world outside.

Having resigned to death and failed, Veronika had faced the "near-death-experience." Having failed once, was she prepared to plunge into death's arms again? This was a question she was trying to answer - she started realizing that it was nobody's fault that she hadn't found meaning in life. In fact, she started discovering quite a few things about herself, which were safely locked and buried deep inside. When she started releasing that trapped spirit from inside of her, her longing to live life deepened. And such a close encounter with death, is shown as a cure to those who complain about lack of meaning in their lives - it helps them look at their lives in a different light and identify those aspects that were pushed into the dark. The turn of events in Veronika's life proved not just a valuable lesson to her, but to many people in the asylum, lost in their own worlds.

Although the book starts off with a lot of pessimism, towards the end it slaps people out of their pessimism and mundane existence and urges us to create our own meaning in life, and live it to the fullest.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reflections: Portrait of a Marriage

The title and the book's cover leave little to the imagination in terms of the theme and the storyline. A wealthy and refined young artist wanders the lands of rustic and rich Philadelphia pastures to find inspiration for his paintings. He does find his inspiration, by mere accident, through a lovely and beautiful farm girl. Inevitably, the two people who couldn't be more different, fall in love. The young artist soon realizes that this angelic farm girl was more than just an inspiration to his art - she seemed to be the nourishment for his happiness, and the soul food for his very spirit. The book unfolds their tale.

Pearl Buck captures the reality of such a relationship, formed out of the communion of two people from entirely different worlds. Most movies and romance tales vehemently portray the power of love to transcend differences in social class, caste, religion and race. While they end with the man and the woman tying the knot, and with a cheery statement on "happily ever after", this book deals with what happens after the successful union. The book openly brings out the conflicts, and the harsh realities of being nurtured differently, and of being painfully aware of the differences in social class, no matter how hard it is tried to be erased. Nurture forms an integral part of a person's identity. Pearl Buck very sensitively brings out the internal conflicts of the couple, each of whom struggle so ardently to fit into the other person's way of life and expectations and find themselves failing, and slipping away to their roots. The tale brings out how they settle into a middle ground and work through the relationship.

The story spans across three generations, highlighting the ups, downs, tragedies and challenges of the marriage and how the couple sustain their commitment to each other. The timeline of the tale spins from the Pre-First World era, and moves into the First and Second World Wars. Pearl Buck subtly brings out the immense impact that the war had on diverse families and countries.

As a family saga of sorts, the tale is not entirely fascinating, or gripping. It plays on like a biographical video of one of our ancestors. But Pearl Buck's writing gives a lot of substance and life to the characters, that they come alive as real personalities we can associate with. She also delicately probes the types of doubts, regrets and compromises that are often taken for granted in a successful relationship. She zooms into the realities of such a seemingly perfect and happy couple, who have their own faults, their own disappointments. I particularly liked how Buck integrated the challenges of having children, watching them grow, and leave the nest - her writing captured the essence of what it means to grow in a relationship and transform into companions. She also brought across the message that, love alone doesn't transcend anything - it is an empty shell and a plant without roots, soon to die. Enduring love is one that is derived out of the realization that each spouse completes the other person - this symbiotic relationship, wherein each one needs to feed from some aspect of the other to be the person they truly are, is the yin-yang of a successful marriage.

Pearl Buck's writing wields an emotional and sensitive tale, without whose expert writing, I'm sure the storyline would have fallen flat and banal, and I wouldn't have appreciated it :)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Reflections: By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

According to legend, the river Piedra was so cold and frigid that anything that fell into it - leaves, stones, feathers...all turned to stone. Kind of a black-hole, into which one could hurl anything that they wanted to purge and exorcise out of them. Over the banks sits a woman, furiously writing down her life's story to be flung into the river; to forget, to heal, to extinguish her flaming agony. The book contains her story.

I expected a dramatic tale to unfold from the woman in this book, I expected this book to touch me deep as the woman wept. But what to me would have been a pleasant surprise, a touching gesture, and a means for a happy ending, was of total shock and sorrow to the woman. And I wanted to tell the woman - "You're overreacting, pull yourself together!" If Coelho had read my thoughts as I read through the book, he would have been completely exasperated at my reaction :).

In all honesty, I'm a little too practical and rigid to let myself get lost in Coelho's stories. My fault is I cannot stop asking questions, stop searching for meaning, or stop pondering for explanations. This is perhaps why his book, "The Alchemist" didn't appeal to me much.

It took sometime for me to turn the book over in my thoughts, and I understood what Coelho was trying to convey. The book was meant for people like me - uptight in their thoughts. It teaches us to break down rules, to stop asking questions, to stop looking for explanations and to just give freedom to the spirit inside of us. Let the spirit guide us to our paths, to our calling and have complete faith in a higher authority. It's about being a Romanticist in life, to connect with the world, to speak to it's soul and to appreciate the beauty of it all. Coelho's books teach me to be a child again, and to be a complete Romanticist who would take their spirit for an adventure. I never understood why mountain hikers struggled so much and lost so much just to get to the peak... all they would see is a view, a nice one maybe, but you can see that on a postcard or a video. Coelho chides people like me in this book, using this very same example. There's much more for the spirit to feast on than merely a view, he says.

It's very interesting that throughout the book, the woman is conflicted with a battle between her heart and mind, sometimes between her heart and a phantom representing the society, and preconditioned rules. Coelho urges us to take risks, to just let go of ourselves, and to break down barriers we create for ourselves. Coelho's stamp of philosophy comes across in the book as he asserts that the Universe will conspire to make our dreams come true, if and only if, we had faith in them and listened to our heart, quietened our mind and neglected society.

In addition to this main theme, the book explores how a man and a woman in love can come together to create their own calling in life. I believe that each of us have our own destiny and calling in life. When we are single, we are on our own Path, our own Lane. But when we find a companion, the most crucial aspect is deciding how to merge our Lanes, find a common Path, and be true to both our callings. Coelho demonstrates how Faith plays a huge role in such decisions.

Listening to my heart, letting my spirit fly free and to have implicit faith in the Universe - are things I still cannot bring myself to do, although the thoughts are appealing. My mind doesn't shut up, it doesn't stop being skeptical and my heart often loses the battle. But I will surely remember this book, when the time comes when my mind can do nothing more, and all that is left is to garner faith, pure faith from my heart, and just bank on it's clarity.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Reflections: Manual of the Warrior of Light

Many great thinkers and leaders have likened life to a struggle, a battle, and call it the ultimate test to our humanity and rationality. Growing up, I was puzzled with this harsh analogy. For the longest time, I didn't imagine life to be anything more than a playground. The matches played on it were thrilling, fun, bonds were forged, lessons were learned, sometimes I was victorious, while other times I fell; there were bruises and wounds, but none too deep to heal. But as life expanded with my growth, the matches became gorier, more serious, the stakes were getting too high to brush off failures, and the wounds started leaving behind bitter scars, with some threatening never to heal. It became a matter of survival, and at that phase the playground turned into a battlefield, and we all became warriors fighting through life, to reach our own calling - our goal, our light.

This book can be called as a "little book of inspiration" to all warriors, especially when they are in the heat of a battle, or are preparing for one. The book is a collection of more than a hundred philosophical snippets that aim to encourage, inspire, and nourish hope and fortitude in the minds of each of us who need to face life in all it's glory and hell. At first glance, it seems like a collection of banal rhetoric statements and quotes. If a person randomly reads one page, he is likely to not be touched or impressed. But when a message is presented in the form of a book - that keeps iterating faith, courage and optimism, page after page, the sound of the words seem to etch their way into the mind, and their wisdom, and grit get implanted. Much needed hope and inspiration blossoms. This is especially useful to pick oneself up on a rainy day, when there is no one around to lend a helping hand.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"A warrior of light knows that certain moments repeat themselves. He often finds himself faced by the same problems and situations, and seeing these difficult situations return, he grows depressed, thinking he is incapable of making any progress in life.
"I've been through all this before", he says to his heart.
"Yes, you've been through all this before", replies his heart, "But you've never been beyond it."
Then the warrior realizes that these repeated experiences have but one aim: to teach him what he doesn't want to learn. "

"The moment he begins to walk along it, the warrior of light recognizes the Path. Each stone, each bend cries welcome to him. He identifies with the mountains and the streams, he sees something of his own soul in the plants and the animals and the birds of the field."

"In order to have faith in his own Path, he does not need to prove that someone else's Path is wrong."

"If he waits for the ideal moment, he will never set off; he requires a touch of madness to take the next step. The warrior uses that touch of madness - for in both love and war, it is impossible to foresee everything."

Some quotes and statements might contradict each other, but the message I got from the book was - a true warrior shall know when to use which ideal, and deal with the contradictions.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Reflections: Unveiling India

There are many books and movies that have tried to depict India, painting a picture of the land, the villages, the traditions, the superstitions, the colors, the spices, the festivals, along with the developing urban world of sky scrapers and modern thoughts juxtaposed with the still struggling and canopied rural world. The bare truths make some turn away with embarrassment, some wince with anger coated with shame, some ridicule and laugh to shield themselves, and others seeped in denial angrily retort, claiming a bias. However, this book has been one of the first of its kind to bring about an emotional connection far beyond mere empathy. Neither a documentary of facts, nor a fictional fantasy; neither a treatise of self-imposed thoughts, nor a play of drama. The book is the story of India's women - told by them, in their own simple words.

The author Anees Jung, is a Muslim woman from Hyderabad blessed with a liberal father. She was fortunate to break out of the mold and establish herself with education and a career. She stands as the face of the Indian urban woman - fiercely independent, financially stable, progressive in her thoughts, and brave in facing life alone... although she constantly struggles with the inner conflict between the traditional culture that seems to root her to the land and inexplicably enough, also seems to form a part of who she is, and with her rational thoughts that torment and contradict the very same culture. A tug of war that is familiar to all urban Indian women, who are often lost in defining their identities. Yet, despite coming from a world so very different from the rural women, along with Jung every Indian woman (or perhaps every woman) who reads the book can instantly associate with the stories of women taken from the hearts and depths of India's villages. I could easily associate with the helplessness of young girls being pushed into a life they are not ready for, despite me being so much more blessed in my life. It is as vivid as listening to my domestic maid recount the story of her life. The book characterizes the diversity of the land by bringing stories from villages and previously unheard of tribes from the east, west, north, and south of India.

For an Indian, the stories have been heard, the superstitions and crimes based on them are all too familiar. I could see my great grandmother, my grandmother, my great aunt, my domestic maid, the sales girl in Spencers and many more women from my life through the stories. A bit sad that even after a hundred years, there are girls who are still subjected to the same brutal treatment as my great grandmother. But the book explores the collective strength of women when they bravely unite to demand respect for themselves and to establish meaning in their lives, and that to me was most inspiring. The stories highlight not just the heart wrenching state of affairs, but also assert the immense potential for change that lie within women.

Anees Jung's writing flows limpidly. I love how she effortlessly strings beautiful and profound insights into sentences without making them seem heavy and weighed down with emotions. She reaches a middle ground between apathy (of stating facts), and heavy drama, which is quite popular while dealing with subjects like these. Her writing has a quiet sense of resignation while she encounters beliefs and superstitions, a dignified sense of acceptance and respect to those women who choose to have faith in them and an optimistic view point while thinking of their future. As a feminist, she doesn't go overboard with any strong opinions lashing against men, culture and superstition. She doesn't fuel the reader with rage but guides them to think in terms of workable solutions.

A touching book that makes the modern feminist who fights and asserts her right to not cook breakfast everyday, rethink the priorities of her battle, to appreciate her life and to probably fight and spend her energy on more worthier battles.