Friday, August 30, 2013

My Review of The Almond Tree in

The Daily Star
A Case for Palestine

Before the Zionists came to stake claim on Palestine as ‘a land without people waiting for a people without land’, Palestine was a cosmopolitan, multicultural and multi-religious society with Christians, Muslims and Jews living together peacefully. The creation of Israel in 1948 was the catastrophe for the native Palestinian Christians and Muslims as most of them were either massacred or were forced to flee. Later, in 1967, the Israeli forces occupied whatever was left as the truncated version of Palestine. The interesting part of the story is that despite being the victims of the Israeli atrocities and brutal military occupation, the Palestinians are seen as the antagonist of the Middle East conflict.  The pro-Israeli writers and media managers so far have been able to convince the west that the Palestinians are responsible for the violence in the Middle East. But, things are changing fast as many
The Almond Tree Michelle Cohen Corasanti Garnet Publishing (UK)
The Almond Tree
Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Garnet Publishing (UK)
Palestinians as well as Jewish writers and artists are coming with the Palestinian counter -narratives of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Recently published novel The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti is going to be a very significant book for changing the way Americans look at the Israel- Palestine issue.  Jewish American Michelle had studied at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. And after spending seven years in Israel, she could know about the Middle Eastern history and was moved by the pathetic conditions of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. And in order to tell the story of Palestinian people to the world, she decided to write this novel. In her own words, she wanted to shine a light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and show that there was a better way. .
Told in the voice of a gifted Palestinian boy called Ichmad Hamid (read Ahmed Hamid), the novel opens with a heart rendering scene of Ichmad’s little sister running after a butterfly when she is blown to pieces as she steps on a landmine planted by the Israeli forces. Later, Ichmad’s father, Baba, who is an incorrigible believer in the idea of peace and non-violence, is jailed by the Israelis when a cache of arms buried by the Palestinian freedom fighters, is discovered in the backyard of their house. Their humble house is also blasted by the Israeli soldiers making them homeless. In absence of their father, Ichmad and his brother, Abbas, have to work as construction workers for Israelis where a fanatic Jew pushes Abbas from scaffolding making him crippled for the rest of his life. Even, after losing everything and even after facing all the possible adversaries in his life, Ichmad doesn’t give up, and continues to pursue his dream to educate himself. And against all constraints, he succeeds. Abbas on the other hand takes a different route and joins a political group which is fighting against the Israeli occupation.
The Almond Tree is a story of the triumph of human spirit. It is also a story of a man’s unshakeable faith in humanism and his refusal to hate someone who has been the cause of his miseries. The story is spell- binding with universal appeal and has potential of becoming an international bestseller and can do for Palestinians what The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan. It humanises a culture and brings characters from a distant land to life, with a family united by love but divided by their individual beliefs. From Ichmad Hamid’s traditional mother, to his father, Baba, who believes in the power of education, the crux of the family’s story lies in the growing dispute between two brothers, Ichmad and Abbas, who choose very different paths in order to create a new future.
Finally, the message the author wants to convey through this book is how strong the Palestinians and Israelis could be if they worked together to advance humanity. She also wants to remind the Israelis of what Rabbi Hillel (30BC-10AD), one of the greatest rabbis of the Talmudic era had said two millennia ago. Rabbi Hillel had said, ‘That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.’

Friday, August 23, 2013

My Review of INDIA SINCE 1947 in The Friday Times

On the eve of the Indian independence, many doomsayers foretold that the entity called India would not survive too long. They believed that owing to its religious, ethnic and linguistic diversities, it would fragment into many mini-nations. Contrary to their predictions, India not only survived but also emerged as an economic power to reckon with. But the big question is whether India has been able to achieve what the founding fathers of the nation had envisaged for it in 1947. If you throw this question to different set of Indians, the answers would be dissimilar. Some people will tell you about a shining India vis-a-vis its impressive growth rate while others would draw your attention towards a dark underbelly of underdevelopment and deprivation. 'India Since 1947: looking Back at a Modern Nation' tries to find answers to such questions and explores how 'the Idea of India' has fared during the last 66 years.

Edited by Atul Kumar Thakur, this anthology has many renowned writers, economists, environmentalists, bureaucrats, politicians and journalists chiming in with their own unique perspectives on India.

Ram Chandra Guha, the eminent historian, opens the book with a highly readable essay on bilingual intellectuals; writers and thinkers who were/are equally at home with English as well as at least one of the Indian languages. The best examples are Mahatma Gandhi who wrote in Hindi, Gujarati and English with equal ease and Rabindranath Tagore whose translations of his own work 'Gitanjali' fetched him a Nobel Prize. While listing the causes of the decline in the numbers of 'linguidextrous' intellectuals, he writes, ''The decline of the bilingual intellectual in contemporary India is thus a product of a combination of many factors: public policy - which emphasised the mother tongue alone; elite preference- which denied or diminished the mother tongue altogether; social change- as in new patterns of marriage; and economic change- as in the material gains to be had from a command of English.'

In his essay 'India: Where Democracy has Gone Wrong', Prem Shanker Jha ponders over the issue of genesis of corruption in India. 'The origins of corruption', he says, 'can be traced in two deep flaws in the constitution India adopted in 1950. The first is the omission of a system for meeting the cost of running a democracy i.e. the entire process of selecting and then electing the people representatives. The second is the failure to enact provisions that would convert a bureaucracy that had been schooled over a century into believing that their function was to rule the people into its servants.' This reviewer can't agree more. Undoubtedly, the political sleaze and the bureaucratic arrogance have been the biggest hurdles in the progress of India.

Politicians (with the exception of the leftists), businessmen and the purveyors of crony capitalism have always praised the 'meteoric rise' of Indian economy after the liberalisation policies of 1990s. Growth rate and direct foreign investments have now become the only criteria to measure development. The worsening conditions of the poorest segments of Indian society are not part of any discussion about India's growth story. If you utter even a single word about the inclusive growth, you are either branded anti-development or are bracketed with the Ultra-Maoists. This inequitable economic growth, however, bothers Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze. In their essay 'Putting Growth in its Place', they strongly advocate for a development model where each and every Indian partakes of the fruit of the progress. Right now, 'An exaggerated concentration on the lives of the minority of the better-off, fed strongly by media interest, gives an unreal picture of rosiness of what is happening to Indians in general, and stifles public dialogue of other issues. Imaginative democratic practice, we have argued, is essential for broadening and enhancing India's development achievements.' 

The rise of Naxalism or Maoism is a side effect of such sloppy development models which widen the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. In 'India: Underlined in Red' Atul Kumar Thakur delineates the factors that breed extreme ideologies like Naxalism in India. Though, he is unequivocal in denouncing violence to achieve a political end, he accepts that in some clusters the Naxalite movement has altered the social and political power structures and has empowered the oppressed classes. An incisive and perfectly balanced essay, it is written surprisingly by a 29-year old.

Beyond the politics and the economy, there is a delightful article by India's best cultural historian Pran Nevile about K L Saigal and his legacy. It is a well-known fact that India's three greatest singers of the post-independence era, Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore had started their musical careers by imitating the great Saigal. But the reviewer wishes that the editor had included more on the contemporary music scene in India since Saigal sahib was a pre 1947 phenomenon. South Indian singing legends like Yesu Das or Ghantasala come to mind. 

There are four articles out of a total of thirty that disappoint us, because they are either hurriedly written pieces or rely more on polemics than in-depth analysis of serious issues. 

Ultimately, this is a great collection of essays about post-Independence India, outlining policies or ideas that worked in India as well as what went wrong during the last six and half decades of its post-colonial existence. It is not only useful for Indian policy makers but can also be helpful to leaders of other South Asian countries that share a history with India.


Sunday, August 04, 2013

My Second Novel

Dear Friends, Just started my second novel. Need your honest feedback to know if it is working. (Anonymous comments are also welcome)


The whiskey tastes awfully bitter but its after-effect is just wonderful. My worries melt way the moment I finish my first peg.
A gorgeous girl is sitting in front of me, smoking. ‘Mr. Khan, you have hired me for two hours. One hour is already gone.’ The girl says while stubbing out her cigarette in an ash-tray. ‘Should I start undressing?’ She adds matter of factly.
‘Yes!’ I nod as I fill my glass.
Underneath her red top and knee-length indigo skirt she has a perfect figure. She unstraps her brasserie exposing her pink-tipped breasts which are perfectly round as if two upturned soup bowls are placed on her chest. Silicon implants, I suspect and feel excited anticipating her next move. She takes off her black panties too, and slips into my bed. For next half an hour, she works with her hands, mouth, lips, tongues and other delicious parts of her body and I become a splotch of wax on a hotplate, ready to melt, evaporate and vanish into the thin air.
She is gone but her perfume clings to my senses, and her presence lingers on, like a bad hangover, reminding me of my sins. I bolt the door and lie on my bed with the guilt crawling all over my conscience. I have broken two religious taboos: I have consumed alcohol, and I have slept with a woman other than my wife.  I try to dismiss these uncomfortable thoughts- don’t I consider myself as an agnostic, someone who doesn’t believe in the strict religious definitions of vices and virtues? But, I can’t… Just, I can’t.
Slumber catches up with me soon. In my dream, my wife, Heba -dressed in an immaculate white salwar suit- is looking at me with her tear filled accusing eyes.
Just about the time dawn is peeping into my room, a ringing telephone cuts through my sleep, startling me. I rub my eyes again and again, trying to organize my thoughts through the surreal, multi-hued haze around me. The hangover is thick and persistent and not going to vanish so quickly. The phone falls silent.

Anxiety returns to haunt me when I think of my father. I am not even sure if Abbu is alive. I look around for the comfort of the bottle when suddenly there is knocking on the door.
Who has come so early? Wondering, I drag myself out of bed. As I pull the door open, a huge punch lands on my face. Ouch! I stagger but manage to keep myself on my feet. They barge into the room. One of them shuts the door. They are four men, all dressed in trousers and t-shirts, their faces covered with handkerchiefs and their eyes have embers of fury. They start thrashing me: punches on my face, chest and tummy, kicks on my legs and back. In between, they inundate me with the questions.
‘What is your real name?’
 ‘Are you an Indian or a Pakistani?’
‘Are you part of Indian Holy Warriors Terrorist Group?’
Who are you? And why are you beating me? What wrong I have done? I yell while stepping back when one of them hits my head with the butt of his gun. I collapse on the ground and begin to lose consciousness. The last three words I hear are ‘Search the room.’

            Returning to my senses and I find myself lying near the door of the toilet. The stench rising from the unflushed commode fills my nostrils. There is excruciating pain in my left leg and in my ribcage. My head is heavy like cotton bales in the rain. My eyes are bloody and blurry.  Mustering all the strengths, I try to stand up but as my left foot touches the ground, a sudden searing pain makes me scream as if somebody had stabbed a red-hot iron rod into my left calf.  Swirling like a rhythmic gymnast, I fall on the mosaicked floor, my head hitting the leg of a wooden chair. My eyes get shut and I am in a dark tunnel. Images, moving in fast cuts like a trailer of a movie, flood my mind.
I see a milestone with ‘Motihari 0.5 Km’ engraved on it. Then, a bullock cart comes into the view. It is trudging along a muddy road negotiating the potholes of different shapes and sizes. A dark and stout fellow sits on the driving seat, prodding the oxen between their hind legs with a stick. Just behind him is a tall, lanky young man with reddish white skin, deep brown eyes and meagre beard on his chin. In the canopied part of the bullock cart is an elderly woman in a white sari, holding a beautiful and hugely pregnant young woman who is bellowing with pain.
Is it a dream? Am I hallucinating? Or are these some old memories? How can I have memories of an event which happened before I was born? But, there are inherited memories. We also borrow memories. The memories can be fake too—something you have never seen or experienced but in course of time you start believing that you have.  I have read these lines in a Booker winning novel by a British writer. I don’t remember the name of the author.
The man with the beard is my father, Abbu, the pregnant woman my mother, Ammi, and the old lady my grand ma, Dadi, my father’s mother. This scene was played out on the evening of June 1970, just before I was to arrive in this world.

How do you rate this chapter from my new novel? free polls