Sunday, May 19, 2019

SNAKES IN THE MEADOWS BY AYAZ KOHLI: A Saga of Kashmir



The biggest question any student of Indian writing in English might want to avoid is Kashmiri literature. There is a vast collection of folk tales and oral literature in Kashmir. There is poetry, songs, and novels too. However, A thoughtfully crafted serious fiction on Kashmir is rare. Snakes in the Meadows by Ayaz Kohli is a serious novel about the life in Kashmir valley. The story is settled in the background of the Pir Panjal region. A small village in the region named Pathri Aali is one of the characters of the story. 

The novel opens with the life of Haji Mir, the patriarch in the village. Through Haji Mir we meet a world of characters with their own individual voices, ambitions, life, and preferences. It is a wonderful feat to assemble all these characters within the purview of a single novel. The story moves and turns like a river through the lives of these characters. One of the characters that impressed me was Aslam who ran away just before his marriage. His actions are not heroic. However, there is a hero in him.

Ayaz Kohli's writing is full of empathy and directness. He displays in front of us these many faces of characters, their lives, and their dreams. The reader can take sides if he or she wants. It is great fiction in action in Snakes in the Meadows.

Snakes in the Meadows is published by Rupa Publications, one of the finest publishers in India. The cover design is attractive. I liked it. I liked the fact that it is custom created. The cover looks like it designed with a few drawings. I have a special affinity for book covers that are either created from a drawing or are custom made designs or patterns.

It's available at affordable price. The typesetting is apt for a library space. The reading would be comfortable if you sit down in a suitable position with enough light on the pages.

The arch of the story in Snakes in the Meadows is a large one. However, the large story arch is broken into smaller units of micro tales that cover every small and big aspect of each character adds more depth to the novel. It's a commendable achievement to gracefully piece together these tales as part of a larger tale of sacrifice and betrayal. Militancy is one of the themes of the novel. However, Snakes in the Meadows is much more than a novel on terrorism. It tells the tale of human existence in its varying seriousness and depth.

The blurb of the book carries endorsements by Dr Shashi Tharoor, author and Kuldeep Khoda, Ex DGP, Jammu and Kashmir. Ayaz Kohli is a 2007 batch IAS officer. He currently serves as the Joint Commissioner- GST Mumbai. He was born and brought up in Poonch District of Jammu and Kashmir. He is the first person from the community and region to qualify for civil service. Snakes in the Meadows is inspired by his real-life experiences in Kashmir. Undeniably, Snakes in the Meadows is a remarkable debut novel and the birth of a promising writer.  


Monday, May 13, 2019

REWIND AND PLAY BY TARUN GAUTAM: A Different Approach to a College Story




Rewind And Play does feel like it's inspired by real events although the author does not claim any such thing. It's a story about survival, homecoming, and the importance of friendship. The novel is written in a humorous and lucid language. A reverberating college story is at its centre. However, in its nature, it far exceeds the limitations and clich├ęss of all other college stories available in India. Tarun Gautam sketches the life of Raghav who lives with his wife and two children in the US. His only focus is to expand his career.
Raghav is at the pinnacle of growth in his career when we meet him for the first time. Gradually, we see how a turn of fate turns his life upside down. His family had to be flown back to India. He had to embrace the hard realities of living a life in another country.
However, an invitation for a get-together from his old college mates finds him disinterested in any such activity. Due to his recent tragedy, Raghav is not in a mood to accept such invitations as a get-together with friends from college. He even wonders how so many of his college pals are in the US, either working or living in this country.
This becomes a reminder of how the present youth of India visualizes their lives. Most of them dream to be a part of the great American dream. One will see Tarun Gautam subtly making manoeuvres through the grey areas of the Indian reality.
Reluctantly, Raghav meets his friends, Harpreet, Venky, Nafisa, and Francis. They meet in a restaurant. One of them proposes that they should play a game in order to make the gathering interesting. One by one, each individual starts narrating an interesting incident from his or her college days. Through the unveiling of these stories, we are able to see a very interesting narrative that involves living in an engineering college.
Many books tell us the same story. Mostly, stories in colleges are overwhelmingly romantic in nature. Another scenario is that they might be outright humour. Tarun Gautam made an interesting approach in this novel. He is not giving us a romantic sage or mindless humour. 
In Rewind and Play, Tarun Gautam gives us a uniquely positive story with nuggets of wisdom and motivation in every episode. With his humorous writing style, he inspires while inviting us to share his philosophy of life, which like the protagonist Raghav, we are also reminded of at the end of the novel.
Tree Shade Books published Rewind and Play. The book is small in size and print legible. It can be read in a moving train and can be taken out while waiting for the long queues to end.  I liked the cover design also.
Tarun is an IIM Lucknow alumnus working for a leading technology firm as a Regional Sales Manager in international markets. He is very much interested in environmental issues and social initiatives. He was part of the "Let's Do it Delhi" campaign, which shared awareness about cleanliness in the city. He recently shared a proposal with the Delhi government to implement Work-from-Home across companies to reduce vehicular pollution and traffic in the city.

Monday, May 6, 2019

DIVYASTRA BY NIMISH TANNA: On the Astra and Shastra of Ancient Times



"You need to understand the two types of weapons our ancient warriors used, astra and shastra. Shastra is defined as any physical weapon such as the likes of an arrow or a spear. An astra, on the other hand, is not a physical weapon but, if put simply, a bundle of frequencies."- (99)

Recipe fiction's most enticing resource these days in India is mythology. By recipe fiction, I mean that kind of novel that pulsates with the help of the plot. It does not give a lot of concern about establishing the mood. It cannot risk the loss of attention of the reader. This doesn't mean this type of formulaic writing serves to endanger the dignity of the writer in any way. Quite the contrary, the writer of the recipe fiction should be given more respect as he or she is constantly battling the urge to plunge into the most beautiful sentence construction and scene description either to create a mood or the extra satisfaction one deserves after long hours of battling with imagination. It's s risky proposition to make to a formula writer if he'd choose to write in a way to sway the reader's intellect just to leave the playing with the emotions for a time being. Reading Divyastra would give you the idea that Nimish Tanna is neither a formula writer to be questioned at the scaffold of literary fiction nor is he a complete maverick with words who creates a world without a beginning middle and an ending.
One of the many pleasures of reading a book written post-2010 in English with Indian mythology as its theme is that they remind entirely of the Amar Chitra Katha, as well as the many mythological works, read during school days. Thanks to the many comic books that served me well.
Apart from nostalgia, reading Divyastra would readily make you believe that the chants given in the book have magical power. The supernatural and the natural blend in. The mind craves to rest upon the shallow running streams of digital reality just to prove the world inside the novel a nonexistent one. It moves. It fills one's heart with fears about the hidden possibilities of ancient wisdom.
The multi-layered narrative encapsulates the very notion of divyastra, the three powerful celestial weapons namely Pashupatastra, Vaishnavastra, and Brahmastra. Shankar, the protagonist has to go back to meet his father with whom his relationship is not very smooth. Shankar did not expect to be blown apart by the events that transpire in his father's house.
Yet, Shankar finds himself wanting to listen to one of many tales told by his grandfather after a devastating turning point. Tall tales of demons, angels, and celestial weapons unveil in the oral narration of the grandfather. After facing the inevitable, it is in his grandfather's bedtime story that he tries to find solace. Contradicting his expectations once again, Shankar realizes that the story told by his grandfather is not just an exercise in imagination. Finding himself part of the story, he decides to confront the odds and makes atonement for his previous self, the self before he faced the first inevitable tragedy, his father's unexpected death.
Storytelling, as a tradition as well as a narrative technique, stays at the centre of the novel. The theme of the novel evolves from a realistic story of an existential crisis in the life of a young man in India to an inquiry of mythological wisdom. The author structures the ending shatteringly different from the expectations of a reader as the story evolves. This twist in the story concludes the book. Nimish Tanna does not use the strategies of a formula fiction to write the twist. The twist comes radically sprouting up from the oral narrative that was serving the purpose of moving the plot forward.
Divyastra is presented through three layers of different narrative strategies. The first one is the existentialist drama of a young man's identity crisis. The second is the oral telling performed by the grandfather, which in tone defies the first narrative paradigm and ushers in the awe for the writer's versatility.
The third and final layer is set up in a great hall where a presentation on modern weaponry goes on. All three narratives move parallel to each other. One layer does not have to end for the other to begin. The 'presentation' episode welcomes the readers into the novel, from the starting itself. It moves until the end of it while connecting several unrelated dots in the story into a meaningful whole.
Divyastra is published by BecomeShakespeare.com, a foremost post-millennial publishing company. The cover does not favour the Amar Chitrakatha image from a nostalgic past. That favours my argument in the beginning that Nimish Tanna is a unique voice neither following the formula fiction nor executing the style of literary fiction. With a powerful language, a unique style and originality, Nimish Tanna is an author to look forward to. The job of the publishers with the cover and the layout of the book is commendable. The typesetting is large enough to read on a train as well as under the dim light inside the bus or railway station.
Nimish Tanna works in Auckland, New Zealand. His first novel is Moments of Truth

Purchase your copy at a great discount here: 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: New Anthology of Short Stories

Deadline extended to 15 June 2019

Themes: Eclectic (Any theme)

Criteria: One can submit any number of stories. If all your submissions qualified the criteria, we will publish them all. All submissions should be previously unpublished. You must also state the same on the submission email. The works should be in the English language.

Word length

Short story: 500-2000

Submission guidelines:
But most of all, selection depends on the quality of your writing. Once we accept your work for publication, it will undergo editing. We will let you know of the changes made if any.

Copyright of the work shall remain with the author. He or she can submit the same work(s) for any other publication.

Email for submissionkdhyan33@gmail.com

Subject line: submission short story

Submission should be attached with this mail in .doc format.

A Second person bio of the author should be included on the body of the email. Also, attach a photo of the author with the email in .jpeg format.
No PDFs. 


If your work is selected for publication, you need to pay a participation fee or Rs 500 per story.

BENEFITS:
You'll receive a 50 per cent discount on all author copies. (For any number of copies, which you are allowed to resell in bookstores or to readers, friends, and colleagues), ISBN, National Distribution, and social media promotion
Deadline: 15 May 2019

Note:
The body of the email must contain the above-mentioned statement regarding the publication status of your submission.

The photo should NOT be on the body of the email.