We Lost Our Hero

Dr. Kalam

The enormous auditorium was tightly packed with people occupying the chairs, narrow spaces in between, and the corners. Once inside, there was no space to move. The main door was barricaded by police and there were people desperately waiting to get inside. People had entry passes, but the hall was running full to its capacity. The auditorium could not accept anymore, and the security had to shut all the doors. The excitement kept building on.

I remember clearly, our hearts were pumping extra blood that day, and each eye was fixed towards the closed doors on the left. When our our hearts couldn’t contain the excitement and were running like a steam-engine of a locomotive, the door near to the stage opened and first entered two burly security men, and behind them entered a meek, smiling man waving enthusiastically at the audience. This was it! This was the moment when our hearts stopped pumping the blood. The entire auditorium, filled with college students & their wards, stood up and started clapping fiercely in unison. The man was none other than the ex-president of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

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Dr. Kalam went on to the stage and waved his hands for everyone to sit. But who wanted to sit at that moment? Every soul present in the auditorium continued clapping with joy, and the echo kept on increasing. Dr. Kalam, the humble, simple soul stood there on the stage with folded hands and kept thanking the audience. For me, it was the first time when I witnessed what true respect and true love was. There wasn’t a single soul in that large auditorium who didn’t felt what I did, else the echo of the clapping would have been like any other event. After much requesting, people agreed to sit down. I glanced to the left and to the right. Each face was sparkling with immense joy.

Dr. Kalam was there for our graduation ceremony in 2009. He talked like a passionate man. He talked about education for all, development, love, compassion, and service to the nation. We noted his message, we clapped at short intervals, and we were uplifted by his sheer presence. That was the grace and aura of the man.

Dr. Kalam was beyond caste, creed, colour, or religion which, unfortunately, still matter in our country. The scientist, the missile-man, the president, and the passionate patriot resided in each of our countrymen’s heart. He was the pride of our nation. We loved to talk about him, we loved his ideas. And above all, he was the only lotus in the murky waters of Indian politics.

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Sadly, yesterday night came the bad news: Dr. Kalam left us for his higher journey. This broke something in my heart, a feeling I haven’t felt since long. A constant pang is striking me now, as if I’ve lost someone my own, someone I loved deeply and cared for. But then every journey has an end so that we can begin anew. Our hero, I’m sure, by now must be smiling in his new abode, as he did while with us, and must be showering love & compassion on everyone around. I won’t say goodbye or rest in peace, because Dr. Kalam will always be in our hearts. He’ll never depart.

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Book Review: Godhuli – Memoirs of a Zamindar’s Son

Godhuli

Isn’t it fascinating how you and me – a complete strangers separated by miles – are able to share a brief moment through these words? This is also how I got to know Mr. Harihar Panda, the author of Godhuli about which I’m about to share with you.

In 2013 Mr. Harihar Panda contacted me via this blog and shared that he was in process of writing a memoir and would like to share a draft with me for my opinion. At that time he was concerned if his labour of love would find a publisher or not, as most publishers were (still are) interested in bestsellers and not memoirs. I read the draft and I liked it, and I wished him that he would definitely fetch some worthy publisher.
Now fast-forward to 2015, I received a hardbound copy of the book. Worthy things somehow find a way…

I’m not a history buff. I slept through most of our history classes and in the final examinations I wrote the story instead of the facts. And this is how I read Godhuli too: ignored the facts, consumed the story.

The book begins with author’s birth into an affluent zamindar’s (landlord’s) family in a village in Odisha, and then the subsequent chapters move on to recount the lives of his family members. But along with personal details, the repressive zamindari system and its fall carry forward as the main theme of the book.

Godhuli is not only a memoir but a glimpse of an significant era. It is a personal narrative with a glint of history, and I found the writing to be emphatic and articulate. My only reservation with the book is that at times the details appear undirected, and even if you skip few lines or a paragraph, you don’t lose track of the main theme. Also rather than dedicating a chapter to each character, I would have preferred the story to carry forward in one continuous flow.

As it is a first-hand narrative of history, I recommend it to anyone who is curious about how India shaped itself after independence, how it emerged through the long oppressive slavery and reinvented itself. If you’ve penchant for history, this could be a good start for you.

My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Bloodline Bandra – Book Review

Bloodline Bandra
I opened the postal envelope and felt the book in my right hand. A shabby cottage with hogs and crows idling in the front yard, a giant eagle about to perch on the roof, and Bloodline Bandra inscribed in blood-red on the top – the front cover captivated me. I discarded the other book I was reading and straightaway plunged in.

On the very first chapter, Godfrey Joseph Pereira – the author of the book, takes you on a journey around Pali – a rustic Catholic (Cat-Lick as they call it) village lost in the dust of time, a village which has its own taboos, a village where being black-skinned imply that you are the last fish in the basket to be sold. Around the corner you witness Bosco Big Stomach, Salt Peter, and Freddy Fakir taking an outsider to task by yelling at him, ‘Ah-ray baster, wot you mean men? Who bleddy told you dat; your stoo-pid fadder told you dat? Ah-ray, we are sons of da bleddy soil. We are da original pee-pils of Bombay.’

Soon you find yourself transforming into a ‘bleedy bugger’ of the Pali village. And as you meet the notables of the village – Lorna Leg Spread, Small Tree Big Fruit, and Carla Four Eyes you watch the village unfold itself and you realize that Pali is not a ‘yet another Indian village’ but a world on its own.

Then you meet the protagonist, David Francis Cabral, a journalist prodded by the success of his childhood friends who have made it big abroad, forsakes Pali for New York to live his American Dream. There he finds himself entrapped as a legal slave: not paid enough to return to India, neither able to quit his job. He is exploited by his own people – the people from his own country, India. Dejected and depressed, love comes to his rescue through Hatsumi Nakamura – a Japanese cello student who had come to New York just like David Cabral. But then destiny had something else in mind. David soon finds himself back home.

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Bloodline Bandra is a man’s journey into a mirage and back. It uncovers the darker side of the glitter – the truth below the obvious. It is about love rescuing you from the torments of life. It is about hope as your last resort.

Beside the gripping tale of a man in search of identity, Godfrey allows you to sneak into the life and culture of the little known East Indians. And the characters are as interesting as their names.
Godfrey’s writing is fresh, evocative, and humours. And the tension and gravity of the story keeps you turning the pages. For me, the book is a clear winner. And I would recommend Bloodline Bandra to everyone, because it is unique, gripping, and an excellent read. Go ahead, grab yourself a copy from Flipkart or Amazon. And don’t forget to thank me because you’ll love it for sure.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits

The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandita
My father served in the Indian Army, and being in the Jammu & Kashmir rifles, he spent most of his life in the Kashmir valley. Whenever he came home on a casual leave, we the children of the house would eagerly wait for him to open his huge army rucksack. Then out of the rucksack would emerge souvenirs of Kashmir: almonds, walnuts, apple chips, basmati rice, and wrapped in a tight clean little box like a precious gold ornament, the Saffron of the valley.

One day when my father took me on his lap, I asked him: ‘How is Kashmir, daddy?’
“It is Jannat (Heavenly)!” he replied with a sparkle in his eyes.
“But the man on the radio says there are militants there…” I asked again.
“It is because everyone wants to grab the Jannat from India,” he replied giving a pat on my right cheek.

Fast forward twenty-five years to 2014 and Kashmir is in the news again, this time not for the militancy but for the resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits – which our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has promised – in the valley.

I’ve never been good at history. And waking from the slumber of ignorance, I was searching Goodreads for an authentic book on the history of India post Independence when I stumbled upon Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita.

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In January, 1990, hatred fueled by extremists and separatists made the Muslims of the Kashmir throng on to the streets demanding ‘Azadi’ (freedom) from India. Backed by Islamist terrorists, it out-turned into torture and brutal killing of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits. As a result, 350,000 Pandits were forced into exile to many parts of India.

Rahul Pandita, the author of the book, was fourteen when he was forced to leave his home in Kashmir along with his family. So what we have here is a heart-wrenching, first-hand account of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. It is like reliving history through the eyes of a person who has gone through all.

Written in a simple matter-of-fact style, the story made me uncomfortable, at times angry, and between the pages I often asked myself: what impels a man to kill another man? – Ignorance, fear, or hatred?
Would you hate anyone who doesn’t dress up like you, who doesn’t speak your language, who doesn’t follow your beliefs? I still have no answer.

It shattered my heart to acknowledge that such heinous atrocities took place at a place most of us could only dream of, and more than that the indifference of our society towards the suffering of the Kashmiri Pandits appalled me – no media coverage, no NGO participation, and total ignorance on the part of the Indian government.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Vidhu Vinod Chopra (L) to make movie on Rahul Pandita’s (C) book.

The thing we are seeking here is not a literary masterpiece but the truth, and the book is written with outright honesty. The only thing where it lacks is the narrative – the narrative is not cohesive, i.e., the flow of the thoughts is not linear, rather at times it feels as if random pieces of information have been stitched together to tell a story. Therefore, I deduct one star on account of this, else everything is perfect.

I would recommend the book to anyone who desires to understand the history of Kashmir. Anyone who, like me, has been ignorant towards the history of our country but now, rather than following the standard textbooks, would like to discover the truth on his/her own.

My rating: ★★★★☆