Book Review

‘Sacred Ground’, by Barbara Wood

‘It was a place that would one day be called California…’, so announces the title cover page of the book.

The fictional work begins with hot shot archaeologist Dr Erica Tyler rushing to the scene of a massive earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale, in California. The temblor happens beside and beneath the mansions and playgrounds of the rich and the famous and the bold and the beautiful people of the place, which, of course creates problems. Even more startling is the fact that when one of the swimming pools disappeared into the ground, the avalanche of mud that it set off, also threw up human bones and a deep, mysterious cave. When Erica was finally allowed access to the cave, she was stunned by what she saw in it, around it, and beneath it.

The scene then shifts to 2000 years before the present day and age.

Using meticulous research, myth and stories, the author recreates an age and time when humanity had stopped leading a nomadic life and had just begun to put down roots. The tribe was the centre of life, and the centre of the tribe, was a woman, the clan shaman woman. The story is intricate and detailed. But what I found intriguing was that the basis of life itself, at the time, and centuries after, was respect for nature and every agent of nature, and the belief that there was no need to be greedy, to hoard, or to destroy the things you cannot have. I wouldn’t call this superstition, but a belief system that we would all do well to abide by. I was reminded again and again, of Rising Appalachia’s track ‘Medicine Woman’; the conviction that anything nature gives us, should be accepted with respect, and treated accordingly.

From Opaka and Marimi, 2000 years ago, to Teresa, 1775 C E, Angela, 1781 C E, Luisa, 1792 C E, Marina 1830 C E, Angelique 1850 C E and to the present, runs an unbroken chain of, literally, visionary women, who heed the call of the earth and everything in it, and realise what she is trying to say.

The story of the book is told at two levels: the present day with Dr Erica Tyler, her assistant, Luke, Jared Black and Sam Carter, and the chronological narrative beginning from 2000 years ago, centred on each of the shamanic woman who decided the fate of the clan and every member in it.

The climax of the story is rather unexpected, so I would rather not give it away.

If you are the kind of person who is squeamish about women in positions of authority, about powerful women who control men, about the monthly cycles of blood, about procreation, about myth and legend and the stories that inform the narrative of women across ages and cultures, I suggest you don’t go anywhere near the book. But if you can respect life and all the choices that come with it, and not regard it as ‘superstition’, if you know that there is no anger like that of a woman fighting for her child, and the one she loves, that however timid a woman or girl is, if push comes to shove, she can overcome all hurdles, and be both destroyer and creator, in one, then you can and must read this book. It will change your perception of life and value systems, subtly, but permanently.

The book is not a casual read, to be ‘finished’ while waiting at the airport, or a train station. You need time and a willingness and patience to know things that you have probably not come across, ever. Try not to begin the book with all the settled, unshakeable paradigms that cause you to baulk at anything new. Prepare to be both shaken and stirred.

And then you need to acknowledge, that at the heart of all things, is love…and gratitude.

Happy reading.

 

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Book Review

‘Purple Hibiscus’, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

15-year old Kambili Achike worships her father Eugene, a very wealthy, and very charitable man. In fact, he is so generous, that he gets a special mention during church services, and Amnesty World has given him a human rights award, owing to the number of people and causes he has helped. Everyone sang his praises, and it made Kambili’s heart fill with pride. Her brother Jaja, is two years older than she is, and quieter, and more reserved than she is. They lived in a beautiful house, and ate good food, off the best plates and led a luxurious life, waited on by servants, and respected by society.

At school, Kambili has a reputation for snobbishness, and no one knows that she is quiet and tongue-tied because of her shyness, and not because she is snooty. Her classmates feel that she runs off home immediately after school because she doesn’t want to talk to them. They don’t know that Kevin, the family chauffeur, waits at the school gates, and that when she was late by 5 minutes one day, and Kevin had complained to her father, the latter had slapped her so hard that she could feel her teeth rattle inside her head.

Her mother becomes pregnant, and she tells her daughter how grateful she is that her husband, the great Eugene is still with her, instead of marrying the young women offered him by their mothers. Having only two children was not sufficient.

Eugene’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma is a Professor at the University, and has three children. She is a widow, is not very well off, and lives in Nsukka. She laughs a lot, is fond of simple things, and takes care of her father, living by himself, in poverty: his son, Eugene, has broken ties with him because he won’t convert to Christianity, and won’t discard his old ‘heathen, pagan ways.’ Eugene will not tolerate women in skirts and with un covered hair. Neither does he want either of his children to have anything to do with his father, the heathen, a cheerful, lively old man, cracking jokes at the drop of a hat.

But there are secrets in the silences; pain and guilt and fear.

So no one says anything to each other when Eugene’s wife sports black eyes every other day, or when she is beaten up so badly that she bleeds and loses her baby, or when the glass table is broken across her abdomen, or when Kambili is forced to stand within the bathtub and boiling hot water is poured on her feet, or when Jaja’s  hands are beaten so severely, that his little finger atrophies and becomes a stump, or when Kambili is kicked and beaten so severely that she is taken to hospital with broken ribs…

Because Papa cries so much afterwards, and repeats over and over again that he was only doing it because he loves them, and knows what is good for them, and he knows they will learn from their mistakes.

From the beginning to the end, the book is a riveting read. The author creates intensely believable characters, and before you know it, they become flesh and blood and you, as a reader, are invested in them. I need no pictures of Eugene and Ifeoma, Amaka, Obiori, Chima, Papa-Nnukwu, Father Amadi, Mama, Kambili, Jaja and all the other characters. They come alive through the words of the author. I can smell the rain, see the insects, aku,  flying around before the heavens open up, and smell, taste and feel the food: fufu and okpa, jollof rice, garri, egusi soup, suya…

I could feel my fingers contorting into claws sometimes, sometimes I would chuckle hearing Amaka’s asides, sometimes breathe a prayer along with Aunty Ifeoma, smile tremulously at Kambili’s first crush, sense my lips drawing back into a snarl, sometimes…

I felt so much a part of the book, which I finished reading at 4.47 am today, that now that I have finishedreading it, I  don’t know what to do with myself anymore.

After I finish typing this out and posting it, I am going to spend the rest of the day twiddling my thumbs and staring into space.

And perhaps re living the life in the book.

Do read the book.

Book Review: The Red Tent

Good afternoon.

Now that all the furore about the concept of having one day to celebrate woman has died down, let me acquaint you with a book.

‘The Red Tent’ is a book given to me by a friend and co conspirator, Neena Nair, to remove the taste of another book she had given me, written by a male author desperately trying to think and ‘feel’ like a woman.

No, I neither remember the name of the book, or of the author. Or care to.

Anita Diamant, the author of The Red Tent, relates the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob, sister of Joseph.

The prologue gave me goose bumps…”The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken, and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing…Maybe you guessed that there was more to me than the voiceless cipher in the text.’

Every word reinforces how a woman needs to fight for an identity, and then fight again to keep that identity sacred and inviolate.

Dinah’s grandfather Laban had four wives and four daughters. Dinah was the youngest daughter of the eldest wife, Leah and her husband, Jacob. As the youngest of the entire progeny, she trailed after her mother and aunts, witness to their loves and their hates, their jealousies and their heartbreaks. And every month, along with the women, the girl-child spent the three days of their sacred bleeding, in the red tent, companionably and at home among all the women and their sacred rites. It was not a banishing. It was a welcome withdrawal from the drudgery of backbreaking toil, the cooking, the cleaning, the weaving: and the bringing back water from the well for every little chore.

From infant and toddler, to girl and woman, Dinah relates the life of the community as seen through her eyes. The female Goddesses, the maternal spirits of nature, Innana and Lady Asherah of the Sea, Elath, the mother of the seventy gods, Anath, the nursemaid, the defender of mothers, the names drop out of the pages like honey.

Unabashedly feminine, fiercely courageous, Dinah is the chorus, the Sutradhar and the protagonist of The Red Tent. I wouldn’t advise anyone who is squeamish or uncertain about the joy and mystery of womanhood to touch the book, with a bargepole. This book is meant for women and girls who know themselves intimately, and are not afraid of the knowledge. It is also meant for those men who know their women: and are comfortable in that knowledge. It is a celebration of women being from both Venus and Mars. It is not a ‘bestseller’ that you can read in the three hours that you need to spend before boarding your train, or your flight.

If you dare, read The Red Tent.

If you care, read The Red Tent

 

Good morning.
“Where do you draw the line,” people are fond of asking.
Boundaries make people comfortable.
The first thing that you try to teach a child with a colouring book, is, to outline the borders first, and then colour the picture, and to never stray beyond the border.
As you grow older, you rebel and declare that no borders exist for you, and that form and lines are not meant for you…but does ‘borderlessness’, and lack of boundaries affect relationships?
Take parents and their children, for instance. You do love each other, more than anything or anyone else in the world, at least initially, but when does love turn into lack of self respect and a slavish tendency to obey every whim of your child, for fear that they might leave you, or dislike you? I have seen and heard of parents submitting to every whim and fancy of their child, however unreasonable it is. I have seen and heard of kids behaving like little tyrants and running circles around their exhausted, dis illusioned parents.
You need to be very, very clear about where love ends and where subservience begins.If a child who has become an adult lives in your house, but treats you like a paid servant, or doesn’t care to help you around the house, or pushes you around, with scant regard for you, you HAVE to ask yourself a very, very tough question : shouldn’t your ‘child’ pay for, and live in, his or her own house, cook for themselves, wash their own clothes, pay their own bills? You, the parent, are getting old, too: you need to rest…is your child trying to make your life easy for you, too, as you are trying to make her life easy?
Are you afraid that they might love you less if you ask them to do this? Are you sure they ‘love’ you now? How many times have they uttered the most hurtful, hateful things to you, in the confident cocksureness that you will cry a little, but you will forgive them?
From the time that kids begin to talk and ask questions, teach them what you will, and won’t tolerate.It doesn’t mean that you love them any less.You are teaching the child the most significant lesson you can: that all love begins with respect. It is the most wholesome piece of learning you can impart to anyone.
Draw your boundaries early. You can call it discipline, or strictness.
I call it love.
Have a blessed day.

Good morning.
Rest in Peace.
While we Rest In Pieces.
A 400-acre wetland, the Dastan Phata wetland, 55 kilometres from Mumbai, attracted birds like little grebe, western reef heron, the Asian openbill and woolly-necked stork, comb duck, lesser whistling duck, cotton teal and Brahminy kite.It offered stunning views, too.
But that was six months ago.
Now, it is a completely barren dust bowl.
No birds.
No trees.
No grass.
No water.
Not a drop.
But some political entity has erected a statue there, for which no clearances have been given. But it has been erected, nevertheless.
Dirt and debris has filled the place, ‘to facilitate construction of homes for project affected persons’
And. A ‘court-appointed panel asked JNPT to stop reclamation, but in vain.’
We seem to be living in a place where very important papers get ‘stolen’ when they are asked to be produced in Court, and where ‘court-appointed panels’ are not heeded.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
We are all very ordinary mortals.
When the Court of the land seems to have no teeth, when every green lung is being neglected, disregarded, fought over and sidelined for the greed of very powerful people, please think: what are our children going to do? How are they going to live, survive,exist?
Shall we begin training them to use gas masks?
Or shall we begin training them to raise their voices, before it is too late, too, too late?
Now that the elections are by, there is a frantic race to inaugurate and rename anything and everything possible. Anything that stays still for even five minutes is being garlanded and ribbons are being cut, right, left and centre.
What about our children?
Today’s newspapers mention that there is going to be 103% reservation in Junior Colleges which are ‘attached to schools.’

For all the conveniently ‘forgotten’ green lungs of once-verdant Maharashtra,
For all the confused, terrified leopards which are taunted for moving into ‘human’ space and malls,
Rest In Peace.
While we Rest In Pieces

Have a blessed day.

The God Particle

Good evening.
We were in the Park by 6.05 am today.
Once you enter the Park at this time of day, on a January morning, you leave behind the glare of the streetlights. The lights in the Park are bright at the entrance, and soft and muted at other places.On the walkway that my husband and I use, the kids’ area with the swings and the sand pits were brightly lit, and at other places, the light seemed part of the groves.Up among the foliage, among the dark leaves we could barely see, we could hear sleepy chirps and cheeps, squawks and screeches from the feathered residents.
In some places, it was pitch dark…and there, if you stood up and looked at the sky, you can feel your eyes fill with a kind of helpless adoration.
For there, suspended like isolated diamonds of various shapes and sizes, in the inverted bowl of the black sky, were pinpoints of steady or twinkling lights of varying brilliance. Some of them seemed so close that you could reach out and touch them, or pluck them from where they were embedded in the inky darkness.
Over all of them, the bewitching moon smiled, benignly, but with a hint of mischief.
One or two people were sitting around, in the gazebo, with their eyes closed in prayer to Gods and Goddesses they knew.
My God and Goddess were both there, up above the world so high, like the nursery rhymes say, reminding me, now and always , that there will always be light in dark places, provided you keep your eyes open and know where to look.
It was an epiphany, and a communion, a blessing and an absolution: it was church and temple and mosque, fire temple and gurudwara.
How can anything so divinely beautiful be anything other than the presence of God?
Have a safe night, with people who love you

Together

Good morning.
Now that the euphoria of the new year has died down, there is a subtle, but scary shift of mood which affects all of us.
All. Of. Us.
When we are ‘different’ in public or are sitting in corners and not talking, sometimes all we want, is to be left alone.
All. Of. Us
When you ask us what is wrong, and we say, ‘Nothing’, it doesn’t mean that we are trying to avoid you or prevaricate, it is just that too much has happened and we don’t know where to begin the story from.
All. Of. Us.
When a ‘normally’ talkative person neither smiles, or talks, and your question about ‘what’s wrong?’ doesn’t elicit any answer, it is not because something is wrong with you, or your relationship with that person, it is just that we want our space for the moment.
All. Of. Us.
When someone decides to open up about their own internal battles, which you have not gone through, don’t dismiss the account, with ‘You’ll get over it/ its a passing phase/you must not think like that’. I am sorry, but we DO think like that, and we are too terrified about tomorrow to know that it is a passing phase. And DON”T walk away pretending that you have got a phone call, so that you can avoid the person. It hurts way more than you know: and when we have come to you with trust and hope, when you brush us off, you are only reinforcing our own negativity.
All. Of. Us.
So what do we need?
We need time.
We need our space. We need a smile or two, a kind word, sometimes a pat on the back, or a peck on the cheek.
All. Of. Us.
But we certainly do not need officious people who think they are mentors, figures of authority, or people sitting on ‘chairs’ by default, to tell us that we are ‘mad’, ‘L.Ds’, or crazy. We do not need people telling us.”How could you forget such a simple thing???” I am sorry, but we did. We do. It is NOT done deliberately, so harping on that does NOT help us in any way.That hurts.
All. Of. Us.
This is a fervent plea for understanding. Today, we are in need of it. Who knows? Tomorrow, you might be. You see, it affects us.
All. Of. Us.
Have a blessed day.