Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul: A book of Miracles

“To believe in miracles one has to be a realist”-- Raksha Bharadia (Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul: A book of Miracles.) 
Image Courtesy: Google
When you stand beside the railings of the bridge holding tight with both your hands on the rail, preventing your vertigo to embrace you totally, with your eyes set deep and tilted upon the transient waves in the running river below, the wind that brushes your shoulders would appear more like an individual. And you would like to name him/her—hope, consolation, or simply magic. The greatest miracle of all is this feeling, that even in the inanimate world, your despair is heard, and you are not alone anymore.

Even if it is signs from above, the healing power of a prayer, love from beyond, his/her messenger, His saving grace, angels amongst us, answered prayers, everyday miracles, divine appointment, the magic of faith, our guardian angel, or call from within, the truth about experiencing these inexplicable moments is the irreplaceable craving for being loved and cared for. Even if the source of this love, is hidden from the eyes, and covered from the rationality of our brains, we all still long for that invisible, irrational touch. Signs from Above, The Healing Power of a Prayer, Love from Beyond, His/her Messenger, His Saving Grace, Angels Amongst Us, Answered Prayers, Everyday Miracles, Divine Appointment, The Magic of Faith, Our Guardian Angel, and Call from Within, are the twelve sections of the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul: A book of Miracles, with each title sheltering stories with a theme well explained by the title of each section.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, the New York Time bestselling co-authors and Raksha Bharadia, the editor of best selling Chicken Soup titles in India are the editors of Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul: A book of Miracles. In her Introduction, Raksha Bharadia neatly sums up the intention of the book as well as its dimensions. It carries “101 true stories of healing, faith, divine intervention and answered prayers.” These 101 stories are part of the twelve sections.  

The book belongs to the self help/ inspirational category, which it justifies without compromise. Each of the anecdotes in the book carries a fresh reading experience, especially due to the layman touch they offer to the art of writing. And of course, the origins of these anecdotes are from people who are from different professional, cultural and economic background. “These are mystifying accounts of moments when people have gained a ‘direct knowledge’ without any reasoning. It can be defined as the ability to ‘see within’, or a way of knowing and sensing the truth without any explanation,” says Raksha Bharadia in her brilliant Introduction.
Raksha Bharadia

“Miracles of the Heart”, an anecdote by Sangeetha Narayanan, in the section The Healing Power of a Prayer, will surely bless you with a twinkle in the corner of your eye. Tears are nothing to be prevented when you are with this book. I thought about the reason behind the teardrops that traced silver lines over my cheeks, and ended up knowing this: there is someone out there, who wrote it, who knew the world and its other side, the side we never meet in our mundane reality, the side of miracles, the side we once knew existed.

Fictional or true, the stories are touching and you would find yourself closely communicating with the experience discussed in each of them. Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul: A book of Miracles is a collection of anecdotes by various people and at the same time, due to the same reason, slips from perfection. Structurally, the stories carry a laymen chromosome in most of them, except the ones contributed by professional writers. This at the same time adds to the freshness of the book, and creates an imbalance in the craft the book or any book for that matter, holds in the foreground.
Courtesy: Google Images

As a self help book, Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul: A book of Miracles inspires. Among the assortment of self help guides Chicken Soup stands different in its polyphonic voices unique to the Indian cultural scene, in the impact it creates as well as in approach. The book shares experiences from different people, rather than limiting itself to the convictions of a single authorial voice. It’s a sure buy with Rs: 295 and fine read, published by Westland and available in almost all bookstores where you are supposed to find good books. There are some books that influence us with the surprise lessons they offer, but there are others which influence us by strengthening our trust in hope and the power of faith. Have faith, this book is the latter category, and deserving, indeed. I must confess, by the time I finished reading, there was a drop of tear waiting in the corner of my eyes, rolling down to say a silent prayer with my lips. 

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Paulo Coelho and the Coincidence

Courtesy: Google Images

Coincidences are much related with the paranormal, parapsychology, spirituality, magic, and the language of signs, but it is not very usual they appear to be a bridge across politics and spiritual awareness.

The thought to write about S.O.P.A and P.I.P.A came to my mind at a point when a similar trend was observed in the political reality of the nation I live in. Salman Rushdie was prohibited to participate in the Jaipur Literature Festival and the process of writing an article about this issue made me think of strategic steps from the governments all over the world such as the attempts to enchain the internet. Each of these steps is carries out with a similar mental malignity as can be observed in the attitudes of the people who banned Rushdie.

Writing has always been a gate through which substantial thoughts enter my mind, like speaking with one’s guardian angel. The desire to write against the attempts to prevent internet freedom was an earnest one and I felt unease as the time passed without a single word hit on the screen. The next morning, as I was checking my mail box, something I stumbled across shook all my concerns away. It was a subscribed mail from Paulo Coelho’s blog, and the post it advertised read: “My Thoughts on S.O.P.A.”

Pirates of the world, unite and pirate everything I’ve ever written!” I read there. I was not shocked, not surprised, because I knew the courage a person required to write books such as the ones Paulo Coelho writes.

 He has answers to all questions, potential deadlocks; 

“1. Some people will say: You’re rich enough to allow your books to be distributed for free.

That’s true. I am rich. But was it the desire to make money that drove me to write? No. My family and my teachers all said that there was no future in writing.
I started writing and I continue to write because it gives me pleasure and gives meaning to my existence. If money were the motive, I could have stopped writing ages ago and saved myself having to put up with invariably negative reviews.”

Courtesy: Picaros. Persiangig.com
The coincidence rather relaxed me to a state of complacency, the sort of complacency a warrior feels when he finds someone standing up and fighting the battle he thought he would lose. The stand of his argument was crucial: “The good old days, when each idea had an owner, are gone forever.
First, because all anyone ever does is recycle the same four themes: a love story between two people, a love triangle, the struggle for power, and the story of a journey.
Second, because all writers want what they write to be read, whether in a newspaper, blog, pamphlet, or on a wall.”

With the permission of this fellow warrior, I am publishing the link to his blog here as well as his take on internet piracy: “‘Pirating’ can act as an introduction to an artist’s work. If you like his or her idea, then you will want to have it in your house; a good idea doesn’t need protection.
The rest is either greed or ignorance.”
If you go downward this link, you can see the permission Paulo Coelho gave me to publish this post.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Salman Rushdie and the Jaipur Literature Festival

Couresy: Times of India.com
I am indebted to Salman Rushdie not as much to write nine novels, three collections of short fiction, two children’s books, and more than half a dozen non-fiction essays, as to play a catalyst in exposing the hypocrisy hidden in the Indian religious mind. The Jaipur Literature Festival is in news not just because of the prospective assemblage of personalities from the field of literary art, but also from the conspicuous absence of Rushdie. He bagged booker prize, and to be frank that doesn’t prove a thing about his talents, literary or artistic. But at this instance when some wounds, sore and unbearably unfavorable are laid bare, he deserves some credit.

The Literature Festival would otherwise have hosted his speech. In the concurrent move of things, some orthodox and parochial religious sects intervened what they have not otherwise been capable of nearing; books. The festival of words was threatened with various means of barbarity if Rushdie took his place as a speaker. A similar insult or predicament was unloaded upon one of the prominent artists, M. F. Hussain (1915-2011). Both Rushdie and Hussain had exile in their personal profiles engraved by their respective political and religious societies.

Even though, Rushdie withdrew from attending the festival considering security reasons, his presence will be assured through video link. Sometimes, technology indeed helps to transcend limitations, rather than creating couch potatoes. We realize it all the time, but hardly keep this learning maintained in our thoughts. And perhaps this was what happened with those religious fundamentalists. In Rushdie’s case it is impossible to say how much his desire to come back to his motherland is strong, but it was said that Hussain wanted to come back home during the final stages of his life.  

Courtesy: Google Images
There was only one thought, one intention when I started off writing this article: five hundred words, my daily schedule of writing practice. But in approaching this topic, I realized that in order to limit my words within the five hundred mark, I must strive hard. This feeling was much due to my internal conviction that what is happening in the Indian society in matters of freedom of self expression and expression of individual choices is less short of barbarism. This barbarism has it echoes recently reverberated in The United States of America, in its attempts to curtail the freedom of expression in the internet through the S.O.P.A (Stop Online Piracy Act) and P.I.P.A (Protect Intellectual Property Act). The mentality that runs through the contemporary bills on prevention of online free speech, from the US to the south Indian state Kerala, which had already claimed the life of the freedom of speech in the middle east and China, is the same, hideous and sulking.  

Rushdie has already created his space in the festival, even without making his presence felt, physically. The controversy has attributed much significance to what Rushdie has to say. The art of political and religious hypocrisy negotiates here with the physical reality outside of books, just like a magical scene Rushdie himself concocts in his books, his magic reality. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Told, Untold and Told

Courtesy: Google Images

An old storyteller lived in the mountains in the eastern part of Malabar. His wife often complained about the lack of any human companion to their solitary dwelling. There was always a reason the storyteller told his woman; “I learn my stories from this solitude, my dear Chakky.”

Silence was the only option the old woman had, since she knew that the family survived on the money the folks in the market place offered for the tales the old man told. And it was into this region of sulking silence the young aspiring storyteller came, one day. He was there to learn the art from the master. The old woman celebrated his presence by cooking various delicacies for the student and the master.

One day the student went to town and came back with a cloud of disappointment over his face. His eyes were red as if he had cried a lot of sorry hours out. “Now, would you ever ask him what happened?” the old woman forced the storyteller. The heart of the woman perhaps had taken the young man with a maternal affection.

Understanding her desperate need, the master asked the young man what happened. The young man seemed agitated at this question. He said, “I don’t think I need to tell you this, but I understand your concerns. I was telling a story in the town and suddenly without me foreseeing; I deviated from my tale, and started telling something else. I was aware of this, but it happened as if I had a different person inside me and he was freeing himself from my control.”

The master thought for a moment. Then he smiled and said, “I can see why you are upset. Let me tell you, you should not worry about what happened. That was a sign; a sign that told you how much close you are to the universe of stories. It has started flowing through you, like a brook. Sometimes we have to submit ourselves to the mouth of the universe; it speaks through us. Let it be.”
Courtesy: Google Images
The young student looked at the old man. He also saw the wife of the master standing beside him curious. “I did not ask you for any advice this time, did I?” he asked with a thunder of frustration on his face. “Master, don’t take me wrong; what do you say of the disgrace I had in the market and the bad impression I registered today in the hearts of those people?”

Once delivered this question, he walked away from the master and the old woman. The wife of the storyteller slowly approached her husband, “I never thought there would an acidic edge to his retort, ever.”

“That is all right, Chakky. Understand that he is deeply disturbed,” the master said. “Think of yourself in his terms. You will understand.”

Her arms held the old man’s right arm as if supporting herself in the hurt the mother in her had just endured. The father figure being disgraced, the mother felt a deep burning pain in her mind. “But you told him the best things I ever heard in my life,” she said.

The master said with a smile, “Yes, I did, but at the wrong time.” 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

About Writing Fiction

Courtesy: Google Images

The best part about writing fiction is to be able to traverse the distance between the supplied reality and an altered one. The supplied reality is the world that is given to all of us, not by the creator, God, but by the society. It also carries its own stereotypical feelings and perceptions that rather restrict a human being’s imagination and wisdom than bestowing upon him the original light of the divine wisdom. The altered form of reality is the optional reality that an individual creates for himself or herself, with respect to one’s own creative faculties; for me it is fiction.

When the wings of this enchanting bird take their full stretch and soar high in the horizon of my mind, I anticipate kingdoms and landscapes and people, equally enchanting and bewitching. The story is a bridge that speaks. It tells me how important it is to get connected with that land of magic and enchantment to make sense of life. Sometimes I get this feeling that the characters I write about are souls that had lost their way and through this bridge of fiction finding their way back home.

Fiction, being the antagonistic brother of reality in the tale of human existence, the inevitable clash between the two is sufficiently obvious. In this clash reality experiences nothing much of a life threat. It survives, even when fiction celebrates its life well over a century. But on the other hand, the prospect of the child of fiction is vulnerable. It requires, sometimes, the very vein blood of reality to survive. Some might ask; “Where is reality in this story?” as if without reality every aspect of the art of fiction is lifeless. But with the dexterity of many a masters and wizards, the art of fiction survives to see the sun of the second decade of the 21st century. How wonderful; just like a fiction!

Reality cannot carry fiction in it. But within its soul, in the intricate caverns of inspiration, art and technique, there exists a niche, a special space, which bears the seed of reality in the world of fiction, as only stories can. A story in reality is that part of life, which we all cherish to live real but never dare to pursue. Even in the saddest of tales, there will be a part where you want to rejoice and live through as yourself. Some stories end with a miracle, a drop of tear in the corner of your eyes, but some end with a magic, a smile full of amaryllis on your lips. The story is the smile of a teardrop.

The best part of writing fiction is being able to communicate with the world in a way you never could before or thereafter and in any other ways known to man. In the path it shows into the domains of altered reality, it makes us all say something that we experienced in our lives, a word of wisdom or a gesture of kindness.

[Written for the writing prompt in Writer's Digest Magazine] 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Fruitage of Spirit

Courtesy: Google Images 

You might be the best in whatever you do. But there are things, a certain number of them that you cannot define, neither can you touch. You think of them all the time but fail to understand properly, and at the end of the day, become happy at a boring lecture or a newsroom discussion terming all those ‘things’ abstract ideas. One such thing is kindness, isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 4, 2011. 10 am. 
The boy in the white shirt and blue shorts was lean and had a shabby appearance. He sat near me in my bus ride to work place. I was thinking about the probability of stopping my transfer in job from Thalassery to Kannur town, a one hour ride from where I work now. And as it always happened, the job-thought was followed by a melancholic expression and anxiety that spilled out of the skin and possessed my gestures and even silence. I doubted my countenance betraying my anxiety. In my attempt to check whether the next person had seen me worrying and mumbling incessantly, I found this shaggy passenger nearby. He might not have seen me, I thought, since he was looking for something in the plastic cover in which he kept his books.  

 Wednesday, January 4, 2011. 9.30 am. 

A small town near Thalassery; in one of the reading rooms, a morning crowd is swimming through the news papers. A young boy came into the room. He deposited his plastic packet on the nearby table and immersed himself in the pleasure of reading newspapers.  Someone came in and started asking for a pen. The boy opened his package and took a pen from it. Once handing over the tool he resumed reading.

His face gleamed in the secret joy of approaching the most accepted act of maturity. From his father to his older brother, everyone read newspapers, and they were all adults. That was how they all grew old, thought the boy. The bus came honking, pulling the kid out of the pool of news papers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2011. 10.05 am. 

“What happened?” I asked the boy.
“My pen. I lost it,” He said. The bus with its heavy sound blurred the tension from his spoken frequency. He felt weak, partly from the stress of losing his pen, and partly from some unknown background influence. Unknown to me, of course; the boy was a stranger to me and I was in no station to help him. I even doubted what consequences my helping the boy might bring about upon me. There was some insecurity that I observed in me, then. It was unsettling. Kidnap, sexual abuse and a whole lot of accusations, for a flicker of a second, roamed around my mind.

The society we live in is mad, mad enough to let any of its members down without regarding their subjectivities, what they think, what they feel. There is a second chance for us all, but every society with its crudeness rejects it. I wanted a chance; time was then, place was the bus. I took a pen from my bag.
“Take it,” I offered.
He hesitated. And then took it. A smile fluttered on his lips. And that was my reward. Happy Wednesday!        

Saturday, January 7, 2012

27 Dresses

Image Courtesy: Google
It’s a great feeling when we watch a movie, read a book or visit a place that is already watched, read or visited by someone beloved. It is magical how we connect without anything tangible or logical, with the idea of getting into touch with the person we respect and love. It is metaphysical and transcending. The story is the same, feeling same, and depth, too; but behind the glottis, the feeling of a lump at the end. I watched a movie, which was suggested by James Patterson, one of my favorite word jugglers—I mean writers—am I getting too much allegorical? Oops!—27 Dresses. I watched it on my computer.

I had this rare opportunity to watch this movie on two consecutive days, like a serial. This, of course, owes to the lack of time to finish the movie on a single day. But on the first day, there was hardly anything in it that impressed me. Time is proportional to will. If I had the will I would have watched it on that same day. I felt that the movie was bleak and boring. Or at least not of my sort, even thought there was a writer character in it who, in similar situations aroused my interest in insurmountable fashion, but the writer here, in this one, visited weddings for the most part and wrote a columns in a news paper, needless to say he is a journalist. Kevin, the journalist in his first conversation with Jane, the female protagonist of the story, had confessed that he is a writer, even though he didn’t belong to that category of people who write books. Still, this statement had significance, because it kept his identity as a journalist covered up from her eyes, which later led to a crucial tension in the story.

I left the movie ride the first day in the middle and kept the rest for another time. The next day evening I came back home exhausted. A snick of the mouse, and I am back in 27 Dresses, though this time just to keep myself alive from exhaustion, since writing seemed difficult and reading equally beyond the energy levels I possessed at the time.

At that moment, what I expected to be a drab turned out to be an interesting movie; may be due to my situation. I observed each of the characters with empathy. Most of them, who seemed living out of reality and lifeless the previous day, all of a sudden appeared true characters, and drew my concern. They lived, hated, loved, ate, drank, separated and met again. And there was a moment, which I won’t tell you, when I felt my eyes wet. Happy Saturday! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Archaic Concern

Certain tendencies in our thinking modes such as ‘protecting nature’ have the same impact and significance as ‘protecting the mother’. Both phrases project a weakling who is in need for some sort of help. The weak human mother, with her old age and feeble health could well justify the need to be protected. But nature is complicated. The argument for protecting nature is complex, since the question whether humans are protecting nature or vice versa, is unanswerable.

Happy Tuesday! The previous day the bus that took me back to hometown from my work place, stopped unexpectedly in an area surrounded by cashew trees and barren rocky field.

There was a crowd on the road that was gathered around an old man. He was in shabby clothing and looked as if a picture exhibited on the wrong wall. I got off from the bus and went close to the crowed. Some were arguing with the old man.

The old man was saying; “I am a farmer. I work nearby. I planted these trees, not for myself, but for the all. Once they grow up, they will give shade to all of us.”

“But this property is owned by the government,” one of the gentlemen from the gathering said. “We must cut your trees, because the road should be widened. The work will begin soon, and by the time it’s my duty to make sure the trees are cut.”

I heard no reply from the old man. In the course of the silence, I saw his eyes water. There was sign of him giving his battle up. He, perhaps, wanted to protect those trees, which were now almost five feet tall. “I am the engineer responsible for this area. I have no option, please try to understand. You can’t assault us like this for such a silly reason.” The gentleman said. There were some buttons from his shirt broken; probably assaulted by the old man, in order to save his tree family. The old man retreated, leaving behind us all on the road, to some unknown location across the rocky plateau.

The bus revved to life. Sometimes we meet situations that are so complicated that we even forget to live them. whatever we thought to be the pivotal elements of life, money, facilities, status, all gone into dust, with the single gesture of immense kindness from that old man; kindness that extends from a blood filled human heart to a life form that has immense differences from the race cutting them down.     

Monday, January 2, 2012

Google Rush!

Courtesy: Google images

As the New Year’s Eve ended, the page views climbed up to 414 from 311. The New Year Day’s page view was 404. Thank you all for stopping by. You must feel that inexplicable warmth of love and thankfulness from me. Since I have no other way to express it, I implore you to accept this na├»ve, yet artistic way of expressing gratitude.

What do you feel at the end of the day, after all the celebrations you have gone through? Let us pool our attention in this region. Here is a thought which we all might have experienced and left somewhere stashed behind in the racks of our reason or logic. There is no logic in accepting that all Mondays suck. All vacations end with the same sense of nostalgia for coziness and a sense of self alienation, like the feeling—I wish I didn’t belong here. Your office, your work place, your school, everything seem unbearably full of duties and commitments. An escape would be the only thought you have, but just a thought. We do not accept this thought and move on.

I too feel the same.

However, when I look at the wonderful work I ended the previous year with, with the number of page views rose up to 400, a sense of fulfillment reaches to touch the rough edges of the time. What a wonderful experience each celebration is. Celebrating a moment is respecting God’s decision to choose that moment for one. The real sense of celebration too is not in the superfluous glamour or fireworks. The essence of every celebration lies in love; every celebration is an occasion to feel the warmth of the loved ones and to keep them close.

Feeling the Monday block was in no way pleasing, though. This prompts me to think about the whole need of celebrations. What do you feel after going through all the celebrations that occupied you the previous one week? Or for that matter any other celebrations; what do they make you feel, afterwards?” You are spent, financially and physically and have no more intention to get back to your work, even if the work is your first love. It is our celebratory mood that gives us this Monday block. We humans need to be happy. Our celebrations gift us with a glimpse of happiness. And we forget everything. And this forgetfulness costs us some suffering.   

Through this proposition, my intention is not to reject the significance of celebrations. Instead, I am justifying their eternal importance. I would say each day and each moment must be a celebration. Why celebrate a New Year’s Day alone? Why not each day, since each day is new and brings with it the same possibilities and expectations one expects at the New Year’s Eve? Each second and each breath we take carries the fragrance of novelty, the wisdom of change, the warmth of the future. In celebrating a specific day, say the New Year’s Eve or the Independence Day, aren’t we limiting our own possibilities? When each day could have been a celebration, in our own individual way, we take part in a celebration that would largely meant to be financial boosters to the economy and has nothing much to do with love or our personal likes or dislikes. Vishu, a festival of Keralites, always comes in April. I would have preferred it near December. Since during April, my financial status usually dwindles down to null. And so I could hardly get the opportunity to fulfill my desire to buy some new cloths or gold for the family. Well, I realized this doesn’t have to be so anymore.

This is the 2nd of January 2012 and in no way late to make a New Year resolution. Let us celebrate each and every day and be happy and together with our loved ones, even while doing our work and sweating to make a living. Let us say, Happy Monday!