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Careful what you wish for

All Time Favourites for Children celebrates Ruskin Bond’s writing with stories that are perennially loved and can now be enjoyed in a single collectible volume. Curated and selected by India’s most loved writer, this collection brings some of the evocative episodes from Ruskin’s life. It brings together many known charming, endearing characters such as the iconic Rusty, the eccentric Uncle Ken and the ubiquitous grandmother, and a smattering of new ones that are sure to be firm favourites with young readers, especially middle schoolers. Heart-warming, funny and spirited, this is a must-have on every bookshelf!

All-Time Favourites FC
All-Time Favourites||Ruskin Bond

Here’s a taste of what’s in store in this exciting collection of stories. An extract from the story of a parrot who could, but ‘wouldn’t’ talk. ‘What goes around comes around’ is a complete mood in this one.

~

‘Kiss, kiss!’ Aunt Ruby would coo, putting her face close to the barge of the cage. But the parrot would back away, its beady little eyes getting even smaller with anger at the prospect of being kissed by Aunt Ruby. On one occasion, it lunged forward without warning and knocked my aunt’s spectacles off her nose.

After that, Aunt Ruby gave up her endearments and became quite hostile towards the poor bird, making faces at it and calling out, ‘Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’ and other nasty comments.

It fell upon me, then ten years old, to feed the parrot, and it seemed quite happy to receive green chillies and ripe tomatoes from my hands, these delicacies being supplemented by slices of mango, for it was then the mango season. It also gave me an opportunity to consume a couple of mangoes while feeding the parrot.

One afternoon, while everyone was indoors enjoying a siesta, I gave the parrot his lunch and then deliberately left the cage door open. Seconds later, the bird was winging its way to the freedom of the mango orchard.

At the same time, Grandfather came to the veranda and remarked, ‘I see your aunt’s parrot has escaped!’

‘The door was quite loose,’ I said with a shrug.

‘Well, I don’t suppose we’ll see it again.’

Aunt Ruby was upset at first and threatened to buy another bird. We put her off by promising to buy her a bowl of goldfish.

‘But goldfish don’t talk!’ she protested.

‘Well, neither did your bird,’ said Grandfather. ‘So we’ll get you a gramophone. You can listen to Clara Cluck all day. They say she sings like a nightingale.’

I thought we’d never see the parrot again, but it probably missed its green chillies, because a few days later I found the bird sitting on the veranda railing, looking expectantly at me with its head cocked to one side. Unselfishly, I gave the parrot

half of my mango.

While the bird was enjoying the mango, Aunt Ruby emerged from her room and, with a cry of surprise, called out, ‘Look, my parrot’s come back! He must have missed me!’

With a loud squawk, the parrot flew out of her reach and, perching on the nearest rose bush, glared at Aunt Ruby and shrieked at her in my aunt’s familiar tones: ‘You’re no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’

Aunt Ruby went ruby-red and dashed indoors.

But that wasn’t the end of the affair. The parrot became a frequent visitor to the garden and veranda and whenever it saw Aunt Ruby it would call out, ‘You’re no beauty, you’re no beauty! Can’t sing, can’t dance!’

The parrot had learnt to talk, after all.

Growing up body shamed

Five years earlier, a friend’s nasty comment made Ananya start hating her body. She decided to change into a new person; one who effortlessly fits into all kinds of clothes, who shuns food unless it’s salad, and who can never be called ‘Miss Piggy’ – and to cut everything from her ‘old’ life, including her best friend, Raghu, for being witness to her humiliation.

Ananya was on her way to becoming who she wished to be, but she’s continued to see herself as a work in progress.

One day, her parents announced that they were expecting a baby, which worried her. To make matters worse, Raghu reappeared in her life …

Andaleeb Wajid’s latest novel for young adults is a touching and funny story about a young girl’s journey to acceptance and self-love. Here’s a glimpse into her struggle as she finds her way.

~

Mirror mirror front cover
Mirror, Mirror||Andaleeb Wajid

I felt a little guilty about the way I had been treating Ma so I went looking for her. When I didn’t find her at home, I called her phone.

‘I’m back home. Where are you?’ I asked.

‘I left you messages. You didn’t see?’ Her voice was a little muffled. Where was she?

‘No. Why? Where are you?’

‘At the gynaecologist,’ she said. What? Already?

‘But you just found out yesterday!’

‘At my age, sweetie, you can’t be too careful,’ she said. ‘Okay, I have to go now.’ She hung up and I continued staring at my phone.

At her age?

Mom was just forty-three. But . . . having a baby at her age . . . I suddenly felt a spasm of fear. What if something went wrong and she died? All because of this stupid baby.

My throat closed with panic. I needed to talk to someone but didn’t want to call up Nisha. Obviously, I didn’t want to talk to Anirudh about it either. I called up Papa instead.

‘What is it?’ he asked, his voice coming muffled too.

‘Are you also at the gynaecologist’s?’ I asked, surprised.

‘Yes, of course,’ he said gruffly. ‘What is it, Ananya?’

‘I . . .’ I didn’t know how to tell him what I’d been thinking.

‘Nothing. I’ll see you at home,’ I said.

‘Okay,’ he said and he hung up too.

I sat on my bed, feeling out of sorts. I needed to do something. I needed to take my mind off this panic.

I rolled out my yoga mat and did a few stretches, and then sat down, trying to calm my mind. It wasn’t working. My mind was fixated on something else. Something with chocolate in it.

No, we’re not going there, I told my mind firmly.

Please?

One square of dark chocolate wouldn’t hurt anyone. I knew Ma kept a stash in the fridge but I had never ventured near it, as though afraid it would bite me.

 

Saliva pooled under my tongue and I felt an unbearable urge to just taste one little piece.

No. I knew exactly how to change that. I got up from the yoga mat and, bracing myself, walked over to the mirror.

That one piece of chocolate is going to show on your tummy, I told myself, making myself study my reflection. On your thighs. Do you want that?

I pinched my stomach and winced at the pain. Despite all the crunches, this was never going to go away, was it?

Fat bitch. Ugly cow. You’ll always be like this.

The thought of chocolate was no longer appealing. I sat in the hall, waiting for my parents to return home and when I heard the sound of the car, I got up to meet them at the door. I looked for an indication on Ma’s face that everything was all right. But she looked fatigued and anxious.

‘What is it? Are you going to die?’ the words tripped out of my mouth before I realized how silly I sounded.

Ma sidestepped me and walked towards the living room slowly. Papa followed her, looking grim, holding on to a file.

I held his thick wrist and he stopped. ‘What is it? You guys are scaring me,’ I whispered to him.

He looked confused. ‘Why are you scared? Everything is fine,’ he said. I didn’t believe him because his face looked drawn and worried.

Ninja Nani – The mystery hero

It is common for Nani to somersault around the room and backflip without a flinch. Her ninja senses jingle when there is danger in Gadbadnagar and the air then wibbles and wobbles around her. Nani steps out every night, catches robbers, helps people trapped in lifts and burning buildings, and saves stray pups and little birdies. Is it hard to believe?

Here’s an excerpt from the book where Nani gives a glimpse of her superpowers to young Deepu.

*

Ninja Nani and the Freaky Food Festival || Lavanya Karthik

‘So what happened? Where did you go? How?’ If Deepu’s questions had had feet, they would have tripped over themselves trying to get out of his head.

The door slammed as Papa rushed out of the house to get to his doctor.

Upstairs, another door slammed. Then they heard the SKREECH-THUD! of Mummy pulling her chair out and plonking herself in it. The muffled sounds of her talking on the phone followed.

Nani turned to Deepu. ‘I could tell you, or . . .’ She smiled and raised her hands. The air around her fingers fizzled! Little electric sparks danced.

Deepu gasped. ‘Is this . . .?’ he whispered.

Nani pressed her fingers gently to either side of Deepu’s forehead. Deepu’s brain sparked and frizzled! More jutsu!

‘The Ninja ThoughtMeld!’ Deepu shut his eyes tight, as images jumped and crashed and fizzed about inside his head. Morimori used it on his show all the time!

Who knows?’ said Nani’s voice, inside his head. ‘It’s this trick I picked up last week.’

‘Am I hearing your thoughts?’

You are! Pretty neat, huh? But wait, it gets better!’

She was right.

Deepu couldn’t just hear her thoughts, he could see them as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

To know how Nani, Deepu’s own Superhero, fights the monsters and saves everyone from gadbad, read Ninja Nani and the Freaky Food Festival.

Budhini Mejhan – ‘The woman who persevered’

The story of  Budhini Mejhan is a nexus of several socio-political strcutures. She was ostrasized by her village and lost her job for an innocent gesture, which was seen as a violation of Santhal traditions. Through Sangeetha Srinivasan’s beautiful translation, Sarah Joseph’s literary sketch of Budhini Mejhan is vivacious, hopeful and endearing. Here is an excerpt:

~

Let us begin with the woman who persevered. Not how she recaptured the dancing ground, but how she ran incessantly without knowing whose land to set foot in. Waking up in the fourth phase of the night, she lit her stove and boiled some water. If she had a pinch of tea leaves or rice, she would have made some tea or gruel.

Front Cover of Budhini
Budhini || Sarah Joseph, Sangeetha Sreenivasan (Translator)

‘Oye, Ratni, wake up! We have to be there straight away. Please don’t wake your baba. The moment he’s up he will start whining, “Why toil over something in vain, Ratni’s ma? You have been running for a long time now, haven’t you? Will your complaints reach their ears? Better get back to sleep than wear off the soles of your feet.” But, Ratni, it doesn’t work like that; we should barge in and vex them as often as not. In the end, they will be forced to make a decision. Your baba is depressed, but could we endure more than this! Put your blankets over those boys, Ratni. Poor kids, they have been cold all night. Here, take this hot water. It’s not likely that Jauna Marandi will wait for us. His tongue has no bones. And if we don’t make it on time, he will go on grumbling about it till we get there.’

Languorous but still on her feet, Ratni staggered out of the house. Could this shack covered with asbestos sheets, tattered burlaps and rags, sandwiched between the walls of two multi-storeyed buildings, be called a home? Shoving the ragged fabric covering the back of the house aside, the child squatted on the ground and peed. From the mud kanda on the ground, she diligently filled water in a coconut shell and rinsed her mouth and face. She shuddered because of the cold.

‘Ratni Mei!’ Hearing her mother call out in a hushed voice, she went inside without delay. A little black dog followed her into the room, squeezed itself to make space between the sleeping boys and then curled up on the floor. Looking into her eyes, it wagged its tail in concern.

…‘We are very late, Ratni Mei. It seems Jauna Marandi has already left.’ Ratni’s mother was dejected. Loosening the knot at the end of her pallu, she took out some coins and counted. ‘Jauna had promised to take us for free. What should we do now! I saved these coins to buy medicine for your baba, but now we will have to spend them on bus tickets. But if you can walk, Ratni, there is a shorter route through the forest.’

Ratni didn’t say whether she could walk or not. Her teeth chattered, thanks to the cold.

While life saunters, the sun might as well rise in the west one day, marking the end of order. Then daybreak will turn into the hour of darkness. Like time suspended, nothing will be understood. Not everyone will overcome the bewilderment that is yet to come.

As Jauna’s jeep climbed up the road from Asansol to Dhanbad, an arm adorned with thick silver bangles suddenly appeared right in front of his vehicle. A strong arm! Nothing else was visible in the fog. Jauna forced his weight down on the brake pedal.

‘Get in,’ he bawled.

The DVC workers noticed the woman and child get into the jeep through the impenetrable fog. The woman wore a mud- coloured sari with a green border and the girl a crimson sweater. The child carried a bundle of clothes which she hugged close in a bid to protect herself from the insufferable cold. She looked not more than seven or eight. The woman had a grey shaded shawl wrapped around her and a lengthy red fabric bag on her shoulder. There was no seat. They hunkered down on the floor.

It was only the next day that Jauna Marandi realized, much to his shock, that the woman and child had boarded his jeep and alighted at the gates of the DVC to commit suicide.

~

Budhini is an exploration not only of the social laws of identity through the story of Budhini Mejhan but also the imbalanced burden that modernization and urbanization places on communities reliant on ecological methods of sustenance.

 

 

Lighten your soul—Love, forgive, bless

With our birth begins our life cycle and it ends with our death. We all are transitory beings. We can own nothing on Earth on a permanent basis. When we understand that all relationships, situations, sufferings, and emotions are perishable, we realise that the only conquest useful to us is our own mind. The real and only worthwhile journey is into our selves and our soul, for our soul is our greatest guru. When we understand our own soul, we understand all souls. They are all one. The Power of Purity aims to familiarise us with the nuances of our lives and to remind us to steer away from the illusions that the world offers.

Here’s an excerpt from the book in which the author introduces us to a way of life that will help us become aware of ourselves and elevate our soul.

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Front Cover of The Power of Purity
The Power of Purity || Mohanji

Bless all. It will make you serene and light. Blessing expands you. It makes you light. When we bless all the people we like and all the people we do not like, we truly become the perfect expression of the Almighty. His true expression is unconditional love. When we remove all hatred and fear from our mind, we become an embodiment of love. Love expands. Love makes our life enjoyable. When we express sincere gratitude to all the objects and beings that helped our existence on Earth, we become universal. Once we understand the true relevance of the food that we have consumed so far, the houses that sheltered us, the books that gave us knowledge, our parents and our teachers, and, above all, the element of divinity that sustained us, we will be filled with humility and deep gratitude. Most of our vital functions, including respiration, circulation, digestion, heartbeat and even sleep, for that matter, are controlled by our subconscious mind. All these things are working in perfect synchronization because our conscious mind has nothing to do with it. We are given the time, space, intellect and situation to act out our inherent traits. What do we have in our control? Why do we blame others? Why do we entertain guilt at all? What is there to be afraid of? All experiences have been lessons. We could not have changed anything. So what else can we do, except express unconditional love and compassion? What else can we do but bless everybody and everything? When we realize that we are not really the one who does everything, we will see our ego getting nullified and our doership getting dissolved. We will then operate in perfect awareness and gratitude.

God is within us. God is to be loved, not feared. The soul element that fuels our existence is the God within all of us. God, the one who generates, operates and dissolves. Hence, all of us possess the same god element. No one is inferior nor superior to anyone. Some evolved higher through rigorous practices, contemplation and meditation. Through lifetimes of efforts, they attained higher awareness. That’s all. In principle, all are one and the same. The same soul element fuels the existence of all living beings, which includes plants and animals. Just like the same electricity is used to operate various equipment, the same soul operates various bodies, and some of them are human.

All of us are temporary custodians of a body, of money and possessions. It is the same with relationships. Everything is temporary. Everything has a definite longevity. There is no room for egocentric expressions, if we digest this truth. All we can do is forgive everything. Bless everything.

**

To understand your consciousness, the meaning of life, and the various facets of existence, read Mohanji’s The Power of Purity.

A diving holiday, disturbing discovery, and kidnapping

Far out in the Arabian Sea, where the waters plunge many thousands of metres to the ocean floor, lies a chain of bewitching coral atolls – the Lakshadweep Islands. Vikram and Aditya dive into lagoons with crystal-clear water and reefs that are deep and shrouded in mystery. But when they stumble upon a devious kidnapping plot, their idyllic holiday turns into a desperate struggle for survival.

Here is an excerpt from Deepak Dalal’s new book, Lakshadweep Adventure where Faisal – the boy who’s care Vikram and Aditya are left in – makes a disturbing discovery.

Front Cover A Vikram–Aditya Story: Lakshadweep Adventure
A Vikram–Aditya Story: Lakshadweep Adventure

Faisal was in a bad mood. His uncle’s impending arrival hovered like a dark cloud above him. And his friends’ decision to abandon him for the day only made things worse.

Faisal had noticed the wind the moment he had strolled out on to the beach, and his mood had soured even further when he saw his friends enjoying themselves. He wished he had accepted Aditya’s offer as he watched them speed their boards across the lagoon. But it was too late now. His uncle would be arriving shortly.

Faisal sat under a palm tree. He passed time drawing figures in the sand. Above him, palm fronds shook and fluttered as the wind whistled through them. The sun shone brightly. The sand intensified its glare, forcing Faisal to shut his eyes. It was pleasant under the tree and the wind was crisp and enjoyable. The rustling of the palms overhead soothed him and he soon fell asleep.

The tide slowly crept up the beach and finally washed over Faisal’s feet, waking him with a start. He looked at his watch, muttering softly to himself. It was past midday.

Basheer uncle would have arrived by now. He dusted sand from his clothes and rose hurriedly to his feet.

Faisal heard raised voices from the living room window when he entered the yard. He crept forward till he was below the window and peeped in.

His uncle was standing in the centre of the room, facing a group of men.

Basheer Koya was a copy of Faisal’s father, except that he was fatter and there was hardly any hair on his head. But unlike his brother, whose manner was calm and collected, Basheer Koya’s face was contorted with rage. His cheeks were dark and red and he was shouting like a man possessed.

‘Fools!’ thundered Basheer Koya in Malayalam. ‘Monkeys have more brains than you lot. Idiots. I thought you had ears. But obviously you don’t. You weren’t to set foot in Kalpeni. How many times did I tell you not to come here? Yet, not only do you come to the island, but even more brainlessly, you visit my home.’

A bearded man with big, wide shoulders spoke. ‘Sir,’ he began. ‘Sir—’

Basheer Koya ranted on, cutting off the man. ‘I travelled all the way to Kochi to make certain that no suspicion fell on me and I returned only after the operation was over. And you? I come home and see you fools sitting in my house. I take all these precautions and now everyone on this island can link me to you and from there to the operation.’

‘But, sir—’

‘You were under orders to head to Tinakara Island. What are you doing here?’

‘Sir. I was trying to explain just that, sir. We were headed for Tinakara. But we had engine trouble, sir. A terrible rattling noise came from the engine and we were forced to head for the nearest island. You can speak to the mechanic, sir. He looked at our boat and said we were lucky to make it here to Kalpeni.’

The explanation diminished Basheer Koya’s rage, yet he continued to glare at the bearded man. ‘Kumar. Where is Kumar?’ he barked.

‘Kumar is safely on board, sir. There’s no need to worry about him. He is in the lower cabin and one of our men is with him all the time. He can’t make a sound or do anything. He won’t be able to alert the mechanics.’

Faisal froze. This was not for his ears. It was wrong of him to eavesdrop. He wondered if he should leave, but who was Kumar and what was his uncle up to?

‘No one is to know that we have a prisoner on board,’ growled Basheer Koya. ‘Even Allah will not be able to help you if he is discovered. I make no allowances for mistakes.’ Basheer Koya stared at his men, shifting his gaze from one to the other. ‘Do you understand?’

There was silence in the room.

Faisal understood full well what his uncle meant. He shuddered.

***

Journey through these breath-taking islands with a tale of scuba diving and sabotage, set in one of India’s most splendid destinations.

The quest for an egalitarian society

It all began in the late-nineteenth-century Kerala, with a Dalit man flamboyantly riding a bullock cart along a road. What might sound mundane was actually a defiant form of protest, as riding animal-pulled vehicles was a privilege reserved for the upper castes.

Featuring several such inspiring accounts from the lives of individuals who tirelessly battled divisive forces all their lives, Makers of Modern Dalit History seeks to enhance the present-day Indian’s understanding of the Dalit community.

Backed with thorough research on historical and contemporary figures such as B.R. Ambedkar, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Gurram Jashuva, K.R. Narayanan, Ayyankali, Soyarabai and Rani Jhalkaribai, among many others, this book promises to be a significant addition to the Dalit discourse. It opens a path to initiating an overdue discussion centred around Dalit identity, history and politics.

~

Makers of Modern Dalit History cover
Makers of Modern Dalit History||Sudarshan Ramabadran, Guru Prakash

Bhagwan Das, author of In Pursuit of Ambedkar, says:

 

The newspaper used to publish a lot of things about Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose and Jinnah but hardly a thing about the untouchable communities. I used to wonder, ‘Who is our leader?’ I asked Abba this, and he replied,

‘Umeedkar, the one who brings hope,’

which is how Abba saw Babasaheb Ambedkar.1

 

Original thinker, scholar, jurist, legislator, economist, public policy leader, development practitioner and chief architect of the Indian Constitution, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was all this and more.

His thoughts were crisp, his views precise and clear, and words unabashed and unapologetic on every platform he spoke from. The more one reads about Ambedkar, the more one admires his unique intellect and understands his significance, the circumstances under which he jolted the status quo and truly sought disruption in calling for complete annihilation of the caste system.

Ambedkar saw society like no one else from the prism of brute force and caste-based discrimination. Thus, he stood for the cause of all-round empowerment of the socially disadvantaged till his very last breath. Even when he was on his way to England for the first roundtable conference in 1930, it is recorded that he wrote in a letter to ‘Dadasaheb’ Bhaurao Gaikwad how the people there were sympathetic towards him and that he was happy to see them inclined to favour the demands of the untouchables.2

As a child, Ambedkar, a Mahar, was made to sit separately in primary school because of his caste.3 When someone served him water, it was from a height to avoid physical contact with him; he was even denied a haircut because he hailed from the Mahar community.4 All this is just a glimpse of the treacherous  discrimination that a six-year-old Dalit child had to go through.

Who would have thought then that this child, born on 14 April 1891 in the tiny military village of Mhow, would one day establish himself as one of the founding fathers of independent India? Ambedkar came from a financially stable family, which enabled him to have a primary school education. However, this access never could remove the ‘untouchable’ tag from his consciousness. The thought of being ‘untouchable’ plagued his mind, especially when he was denied the services of a barber or a

driver because of it.

During his primary-school days, he was treated differently and ridiculed solely because he was a Mahar. This left a huge impact on him. However, Babasaheb took the fight to the orthodoxy, and at no point did he give up. For it is these very incidents that made him realize that the fight for the dignity of Dalits had to begin and be a constant one, until his very last breath. He recorded the experiences of untouchability faced by him in the newspaper Janata, which he founded in 1929.5 Dhananjay Keer’s biography, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Life and Mission, published in 1954, also recounted all of Babasaheb’s experiences.6

While his journey to educate himself was excruciating, he was determined to venture into the unknown. His secondary education was funded by the Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the erstwhile ruler of Baroda (now Vadodara), and he studied at the Elphinstone High School in Bombay. Ambedkar’s quest to arm himself with education never ceased, be it when he was in Columbia University, the London School of Economics or Gray’s Inn, where he excelled in academics. The years spent in Europe and America made him feel the stark difference in the treatment he received there and the treatment meted out to him in India.

In 1942, when he founded the All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF), which he later dissolved to found the Republican Party of India, he also initiated scholarships for Dalit

students to study abroad.7

Ambedkar was always a firm advocate of education. He believed that if this revolution for the marginalized was to be won, access to quality education was crucial. He was never violent in his methods. He knew that equipping oneself with education would ensure a battle of dignity for the Dalits that could be fought and won. It was only after education that he felt empowered, for he believed only power could defeat power. Ambedkar being elected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1926 and him founding the Independent Labour Party in 1936 are testimony to how crucial political representation was for Dalits.8

This focus on education was inculcated in him by his teacher at Columbia University, Professor John Dewey. Ambedkar has often said that he owes his intellectual life to Dewey, who was an American philosopher and psychologist but, above all, a reformer of education. Dewey was also one of the central figures associated with functional psychology, philosophy and progressive education.9

Very few Indian leaders have been educated in America. Ambedkar studied with the best minds at Columbia University in the three years he spent there. When he enrolled, he took a number of courses, including railroad economics. He was keen to learn from the top-ranking professors at the university.

All his life, Ambedkar sought the complete eradication of caste, for only this, he believed, would lead to an honourable society. As Bhalchandra Mungekar writes in his introduction to The Essential Ambedkar, ‘Ambedkar’s basic arguments were against institutionalization of caste-based isolation and discrimination

prevalent in the Hindu mind.’10

~

Makers of Modern Dalit History is a essential read for anyone who wishes to understand the Indian experience in its totality.

Yet another unjust ritual

 

On the third day after the death of Bangaravva, a solemn procession that made its way towards the graveyard encountered a strange obstacle. A blast of wind rose up in revolt, the embers flared and the sacred ritual fire fell to the ground. The ceremony was ruined because custom demanded that the ritual fire never touch the ground.

What followed was chaos and confusion. The people sought a sacrifice to bear the blame for things going awry, and a solution to set it all right. The division between castes and communities came to the fore as the panchayat struggled to pronounce justice.

A poetic work calling for change in our casteist society, Karya unfurls a kaleidoscope of perspectives. Studded with symbols drawn from nature and myth, this small but significant novel explores the politics and power embedded within a Dalit community.

Here’s a peek into the main action of the book.

~

Front cover of Karya
Karya||Aravind Malagatti

The men on the way to the karya stopped suddenly at the boundary stone as they reached the limits of the village. The women in the third group were still some distance away.

A buffalo was swimming in a tank within the bounds of the village. Akkavva, from among the women going to the karya, stopped in her tracks to gawk at it, even as she handed over her pitcher of water to another. Her face, screwed tight with weeping, filled out suddenly like a pumpkin, beaming. It was three months since she had lost that buffalo while grazing it and she had been fretting. Now, she recognized it by the ornamental tipcovers on its horns. For a moment, she thought of the dead Bangaravva and turned back to get her buffalo. Who

knows if it would come home on its own or not? Some of the women who had seen her, turned up their noses at her and walked on.

The men had the, ‘ask them to hurry up’ expression, aimed at no one in particular but as if surely meant for the one particular group that was lingering. Just that no one said it aloud. The women stepped up their pace. The woman who had taken the pot from Akkavva walked briskly, ahead of them all. The men stood facing the village, with their back to the boundary stone. Once water was poured over the stone, they continued on their way facing the graveyard. All of men had the same solemn expressions. The women followed them, matching their strides.

That was when they removed the fresh white cloth covering the kavala mora. Their faces perked up to see the crows that had followed them, thanks to the aroma.

The wind picked up as soon as they crossed the village. Even before this, smoke from the smouldering kullaggi in Mallappa’s right hand had touched the dung cakes in his left; turning some of them too to ash. Once they crossed the boundary stone, the front wind caused the smoking kullaggi to catch fire. To keep his fingers from burning, Mallappa kept moving them to safer spots on the berani and screaming for fresh ones, ‘Ei, this is hot! Give me some more.’

Their feet swallowed the distance. All at once, the men opened their mouths; they murmured:

‘Ei, don’t let the kullaggi fall.’

‘It shouldn’t touch the ground.’

‘It’s bad luck if it does.’

‘Don’t let it fall. Come what may. Control the blaze; don’t let it burn so bright.’

Some even tried to put it down. But the flame would not be subdued. A boy picked up a fistful of mud to throw at it.

‘Ei, into whose mouth are you trying to throw mud?’ shouted Shivappa, Bangaravva’s husband. The fingers of the fist that held the mud loosened slowly, on their own. Mud dribbled through as flour from a flourmill, all along the way. They were getting closer to the graveyard. Mallayya tried his

best to press the dung cakes against one another to control the fire. But the headwind was too strong.

‘Chikkappa, kullu!’ he shouted for dry dung cakes to his uncle, Chandappa.

His uncle had fallen behind. All eyes turned towards him even as their strides quickened. Chandappa, feeling their eyes, darted towards Mallappa.

‘Why, didn’t you bring enough?’ he asked.

‘I did . . . but they’re over . . . You said you’d bring some, didn’t you?’

‘I? When did I say that?’

Mallappa went cold. He broke out in a sweat. His mouth went dry.

‘What do we do now?’

‘We’ll do whatever. But don’t drop it.’

‘Chikkappa?’

‘Chikkappa, he says, Chikkappa,’ Chandappa muttered to himself. And then to the men around, ‘Ei, go and gather some kullu drying in the fields.’

Even before he could finish, a few youngsters jumped the fence and entered the field with a standing crop. But none of them returned. Everyone scolded Mallappa. Everyone cautioned him from letting the ritual fire touch the ground. More than anyone else, Chandappa kept at it. Mallappa’s hands trembled as the heat touched them.

‘Chikkappa—at least fetch a flat stone to place under the burning cakes,’ Mallappa screamed but his uncle showed no concern. He was waiting for those who had gone to get some dry dung cakes from the field. When Shivappa brought a flat stone to help Mallappa, he shouted at him,

‘Why, do you want to snuff out your progeny by blocking the fire with stone?’

‘Not just his offspring,’ added another elder, ‘Looks as if he wants to burn down his whole house.’ Then Shivappa remembered his only son, Suryakantha, the fruit of many vows to many gods. He was already nearly chest-high. Not willing to lose him, Shivappa did not let the stone fall gently

to the ground; he dropped it with a thud. It fell on his big toe and . . . blood flowed.

Mallappa, caught amid the words of caution from everyone, tried his best to put out the fire with his hands but in vain. Already the hair on his hands was singed. The flame was trying to burn them. He gasped, helpless. Tears ran down his cheeks. And, finally, when the burning dung cake scorched his iron-like hands, he screamed and let go of the kullaggi! He looked at his hands, sobbing. They were covered with blisters. He looked around at the others.

Their looks were like knives. Those who had gone to fetch dry dung returned with some. They looked from Mallappa to the burning kullu on the ground. The ash was blown away by the wind and sparks of fire flew from them, happy to have won!

Everyone stood silent for a while. The wind had lost its gusto. All those who had come to attend the karya felt the whole world had come to a standstill. They had even forgotten they were alive.

All this happened in just a few moments.

~

Karya is a depiction of the unfairness of certain customs and how they discriminate harshly, even in dangerous, but easily remedied situations against one section of individuals, the Dalit community.

‘Please, don’t. I am scared’ – The painful world of IVF clinics

Detailing the difficulty of undergoing infertility treatments, What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina is a nuanced, heart-breaking and heart-warming work on the indignities of medical procedures, the precariousness of motherhood, and what this means to women. In this excerpt, Rohini Rajagopal talks about one of her Intrauterine insemination sessions.

~

I heard of ‘artificial insemination’ for the first time in a Malayalam movie when I was eight or nine years old. It was Malayalam cinema’s cult classic Dasharatham (1989), which was so ahead of its time that even now I am not sure if its time has come. A leading mainstream actor, Mohanlal, plays a rich, spoilt man-child who decides to act on a whim and have a child through surrogacy. He finds a desperate woman who needs money for her ailing footballer husband’s medical treatment and agrees to rent her womb. They draw up a contract, turn up for the procedure, and fifteen days later she is pregnant! No failed attempts, cancelled cycles or any other complications. With this movie lodged in my brain for reference, I thought fertility treatments were an easy-peasy lemon-squeezy affair. To be fair to the movie, it is not about infertility. It’s about a healthy, fertile couple who use artificial insemination for conception. It may well have happened that quickly and effortlessly in real life too. But the movie glosses over the unseemliness and hardships of the treatment. For those who have seen the movie, I hate to burst your bubble. Welcome to the world of ART.

Front cover What's A Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina
What’s A Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina||Rohini S. Rajagopal

I began our first IUI in July 2011 with the earnestness of a debutant, expecting early and prompt success… The procedure itself was relatively simple with only a few key steps. The first step was pills to stimulate my ovaries to release multiple eggs. The second was follicular study. Follicles are tiny fluid-filled balloons in the ovaries that function as the home of the egg. They may expand from the size of a sesame seed (2 millimetres) to the size of a large kidney bean (18 mm to 25 mm) during the course of the menstrual cycle, eventually bursting to push the egg out. The follicles are measured at regular intervals during a cycle to ascertain if they have matured and are ready to release the egg. This is done through a transvaginal ultrasound (TVS).

I was not a big fan of TVS. It involved insertion of a long, slim plastic probe into my vagina and twisting it around to get a close look at the uterus. Magnified images of the uterus appeared on a computer screen. I was appalled the first time when the doctor covered the transducer with a condom and dipped it in lubricating gel, indicating that it had to enter an orifice in my body. I thought that scans, by definition, were non-invasive. It caused some discomfort, but it was not very painful. Eventually, I learnt to relax my muscles and spread my legs far apart to make things easier. I wished I didn’t have to get a TVS, but if I had to then I could tolerate it.

The cycle got off on the wrong foot from the very beginning. The first ultrasound showed only one big-enough follicular blob (at 13 mm). The other four or five follicles were too small, indicating they might not reach maturity. This meant I might have only one egg despite taking drugs to stimulate the release of many.

…It was a busy day at the hospital for Dr Leela, who was swamped with several emergency C-sections. I sat alone in the deserted waiting hall of the IVF clinic, biding my time. Other patients had left after their ultrasounds in the morning. No one else was lined up for a procedure.

…Finally, at around one, Dr Leela came and apologized for the delay. I was taken to the operating room, asked to remove my leggings and empty my bladder. I lay down on the bed and pulled a sheet over my naked legs. A tray of surgical instrument kits was placed on a stand next to the bed. I kept my fingers crossed, hoping there would be no speculum.

Dr Leela began briskly tearing the kits open one by one and getting ready for action. When she pulled out the speculum, I lost my nerve. The thin mask of composure I was wearing until then crumbled. I sprang up and held back her hand desperately.

‘Please, don’t. I am scared.’

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. What was I thinking? It was a meaningless request. And Dr Leela had no patience for such trembling and dithering. She was not known to offer empty, placatory words, ‘It’s okay. Just relax. It will not hurt you.’ My protest was an annoying interruption and she reacted sternly.

‘Take your hand off. I don’t need it here.’
The room became tense.

…The ninety seconds it must have taken to fix the speculum and inject the semen were excruciating, and not just because of the physical hostility of the act. Not just because it felt raw or sore or I was bleeding. But because it was a breach of my already fragile self. It tore through the membranes of my defences, leaving me exposed and helpless.

In a few minutes, it was over and the doctor left. The stainless-steel tools were taken out by the nurses. The housekeeping staff cleaned the floor. The room became empty again. The pounding in my heart ceased. I rested in the metallic stillness of the operating room for thirty minutes, drove home, ate my lunch and went to sleep.

That IUI was an eye-and-mind-opener of the path ahead. An IVF clinic is a cold place to walk into. It doesn’t matter which IVF clinic you go to. There might be a difference in degree, but the air is still chilly and biting. You must shed your inhibitions, modesty and fears quickly because the most crucial part of fertility treatment involves lying on your back, knees bent, legs wide open, while probes, catheters and lemon squeezers are thrust inside your vagina by professionals whose day job this is. What you need is the stance of a warrior, not the long-suffering bearing of a patient.

~

Years later, I am just a few weeks away from going into labour. Ranjith’s mother and I are alone at home. We are having a woman-to-woman conversation about the trials and tribulations of bringing a human into this world. We discuss pregnancy scans and the improvements in technology since her time. She speaks about her own repulsion and discomfort during an internal examination, which was necessary in her days when ultrasounds were not as prevalent.

She asks casually, only half-asking, but mostly reconfirming, ‘You’ve never had an internal examination, alle?’

I gasp and mumble something to the effect of, ‘Yes, I have.’ But the truth is, there was no short answer to that question.

~

What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina opens up a discussion that we are hardly willing to have, sensitising us to the physical and emotional toll that medical procedures and social scrutiny take on women.

 

 

A slip and a fall in search of the grey ghost of the Himalayas

In Deepak Dalal’s new book, The Snow Leopard Adventure, Vikram and Aditya are back in magnificent Ladakh. Having finally freed their young friend Tsering from the hands of dangerous men, they’ve set themselves up for an even greater challenge: to track down the grey ghost of the Himalayas, the snow leopard.

But things don’t always go according to the plan during their trek. Here is an excerpt from the book that highlights one of the more challenging events of the trek.

Front Cover The Snow Leopard Adventure
The Snow Leopard Adventure||Deepak Dalal

I didn’t see exactly what happened because I was looking down at the gravel-strewn track as I ran. I heard a scream, and when I looked up, I saw a pair of hands grabbing desperately at the edge of the outcrop. I wasn’t far behind Caroline and scarcely a few seconds must have elapsed between her falling and my flinging myself to the ground and locking my fingers around her wrists. I had barely grasped them when her scrabbling fingers slipped, and her entire weight was transferred on to me. I was dragged forward and my chest hit the rock at the edge of the cliff with a thud.

We were both stuck, Caroline dangling from my hands and I pressed against the cliff edge, pinned down by her weight. Caroline is three inches taller than my 5 feet 7 inches and also heavier than me (sixty-five kilos to my sixty, she told me later). I could feel myself being pulled towards the edge. Disaster appeared to be a certainty, but Tsering intervened, saving us by clinging to my thighs and adding his weight to mine.

Now, on reflection, I don’t think any of us would have died if we had gone over. The cliff we clung to was not a large one. The fall was only a few metres. But the area at the base of the cliff was not flat, it sloped downwards at an alarming angle. Our injuries could have been serious. We would have broken several bones, but we would have survived.

My breath came in rapid gulps and sweat must have flowed from my every pore. Yet, even though I was terrified, a part of my mind admired the vista that spread before me. I could see the river valley below and the mountain slopes opposite. I spotted flecks of colour in the distance—our camp mates. I wondered if they could see us.

I am ashamed to admit that I lost control of myself up there. My hands shook and my chest hurt terribly. My heart kicked and pummelled my chest, and my senses swam about me. I kept assuring myself that there was no reason to panic and that nobody would go over.

I had no idea then that I was speaking my thoughts aloud (Caroline and Tsering informed me later). I told myself that we only had to wait it out. Somebody would come . . . Tina and Kathy would return and untangle us.

Luckily, a heaven-sent determination infused Caroline as she dangled in the sparse Ladakh air. While I was rambling, she spotted fissures and cracks on the rock face she was suspended against. She willed her legs to grope beneath her and she found secure anchors in the stony crevices. Her fingers and palms gripped rock at the cliff edge. With me still holding on to her wrists, she pulled herself up a few inches.

I heard her breathing. She was gasping and panting far louder than I was. Soon her face was level with mine and our eyes met. Hers glittered with cold determination. There was a vacant expression in mine, she told me later. She was probably right, because she had to shout several times before I paid attention to what she was saying. She wanted me to release her wrists, which I did mechanically. Now sure of herself, Caroline dragged herself up and without further incident she flopped beside me. We lay inert on the rock, Tsering looking down on us.

After a long time we continued our walk to the crest. The rest of the morning was a blur. None of us were in any state to look for bharal or search for leopards. Kathy, Tina and Yuan turned up, exhausted, after an hour. They had found more sign of the leopard they were following but had not been able to locate it. We turned back for camp shortly thereafter. Caroline had extracted a promise from

Tsering and me not to speak about the morning’s drama to anybody. She smiled gratefully when it became clear that we were not going to say a word, and she turned distinctly friendly when we maintained our silence at camp too.

Aditya was aghast when he learnt that I had not pursued the leopard with the others. ‘How could you let such an opportunity go?’ he wanted to know. ‘You were so close to the leopard!’

Does Aditya eventually see the Snow Leopard? Grab your copy for Snow Leopard Adventure to find out!